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BP Ready for Trial After Failing to Find ‘Reasonable’ Settlement

BP Ready for Trial After Failing to Find ‘Reasonable’ Settlement
Smoke billows from controlled oil burns near the site of the BP Plc Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, in this June 19, 2010 file photo. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

BP Plc will defend itself against claims over 2010’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill at a trial next week after failing to reach a settlement with the U.S. and individual states.

“We have always been open to settlements on reasonable terms,” Rupert Bondy, group general counsel at BP, said today in a statement. “Faced with demands that are excessive and not based on reality of the merits of the case, we are going to trial.”

A two-phase trial will start at a federal court in New Orleans on Feb. 25, overseen by Judge Carl Barbier. The first phase will determine responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 rig workers and started the worst U.S. offshore oil spill. The second will decide the size of fines under the Clean Water Act.

BP said it won’t be found grossly negligent, a legal threshold of responsibility that determines the scale of fines Judge Barbier would be able to levy.

“Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case,” Bondy said. “This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent.”

BP will also contest U.S. estimates of how much oil was spilled. The government’s figure of 4.9 million barrels is overestimated by at least 20 percent, according to the London-based company. Given BP managed to contain and collect 810,000 barrels of oil, the penalty should be based on no more than 3.1 million barrels, it said.

BP will be represented at trial by lawyers from Covington & Burling LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Liskow & Lewis.

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