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News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Oil in the Court: Quick Facts on BP Trial Set to Start Next Week

Posted On February 20, 2013 by

Restoring the Gulf of Mexico – A brown pelican flies off Elmer’s Island, Louisiana with an oil rig in the background. Photo: Cheryl Gerber

As the likelihood of a settlement in the civil case against BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster shrinks, here are a few basic facts about what to expect when the big trial kicks off in New Orleans next week as scheduled.

The trial is being handled in three separate phases: (1) the incident phase; (2) the source control/discharge phase; and (3) the final phase addressing oil containment issues like the use of skimmers, dispersant and boom.

Phase One of the trial is scheduled to start this coming Monday, Feb. 25. It’s called the “Trial of Liability, Limitation, Exoneration, and Fault Allocation.” It is a non-jury trial, meaning Judge Barbier is the decisionmaker. It will focus on the lead-up to the disaster and is designed to determine the causes of BP’s well blowout.  It should answer the question of gross vs. simple negligence.  The United States intends to prove gross negligence or willful misconduct at the Phase One trial. Yesterday, BP issued a statement about its intentions to “vigorously defend” itself against the gross negligence allegations .   This is very important for determining the fines for violations of the Clean Water Act, which will in turn influence how much money is available for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico through the RESTORE Act passed last year.

Phase Two will address efforts to stop the flow of oil from the well.  The dates for Phases Two and Three of the trial have not been set.   We will be keeping a close watch on the proceedings.

Read what we’ve said previously about what a good resolution to this case should look like.