Second phase of BP oil spill trial begins today

By Kyle Barnett | Sep 30, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – The second phase of the trial over the 2010 BP oil spill begins today.

This phase will determine fines under the Clean Water Act by analyzing the actions taken by the defendants in stopping the release of oil and gasses from the well and calculating the amount of oil released.

“The court is going to make two determinations: if the owners of the well were diligent in their efforts to stop the leak," said Blaine LeCesne, professor of law at Loyola University–New Orleans.

That should last about one week, he said.

"The second part of the second phase will be to quantify the exact amount that was actually spilled. Both of those determinations are going to be heavily rely upon expert testimony," LeCesne said.

Experts have said this part of trial may result in a fine estimated to be as high as $20 billion.

Under the Clean Water Act fines are assessed per barrel.

According to LeCesne, BP has estimated that 2.4 million of barrels were spilled from the well over a four-month period, while the Department of Justice claims the estimate should be closer to 4.2 million barrels.

In addition to final determination the amount of oil actually spilled, LeCesne said the ultimate fine will also hinge whether the court finds BP guilty of negligence or gross negligence. He said the definition of “gross negligence” within the Clean Water Act is ambiguous and is ripe area to be challenged.

“They say if the spill was caused by gross negligence you’ll pay $4,300 a barrel as opposed up to $1,100 for ordinary negligence, but they don’t go on to tell you what gross negligence shall mean in the context of the statute,” LeCesne said.

Initially set to begin on Sept. 16, the second phase of the trial was pushed back two weeks after both BP and plaintiffs’ attorneys asked for more time for preparation.

The first phase of the trial began on Feb. 25 and went on for eight weeks. That phase focused on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion that began the 2010 Gulf oil spill that resulted in what is thought to be the largest oil spill ever recorded.

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