U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has ordered parties in the second phase of the BP oil spill trial, which ended last month, to submit summaries of the evidence presented in the trial and proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law” by December 20. Responses to the post-trial briefs are to be filed by Jan. 24, 2014. The second phase of the trial will be focused on determining the actions taken by BP and its drilling partners to stem the flow of oil from BP’s Macondo well in the first three days after its blowout.
The blowout and explosion resulted in the release of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The exact total was the subject of the second part of Phase Two of the trial. In his order, Judge Barbier has limited the post-trial briefs to 40 pages for each set of parties that presented witnesses during the source control and quantification segments. The responses to those briefs were limited to 25 pages. During the source control segment, which lasted four days, BP presented evidence defending its actions on its own, and will be allowed to present a 40-page brief and 25-page response. Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, and cement contractor Halliburton combined with the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee lawyers representing private claimants and the states of Alabama and Louisiana. That group, referred to as the “aligned parties,” will be allowed a 40-page brief and a 25-page response.
BP joined with Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which owned 10 percent of the Macondo well, in presenting evidence supporting a conclusion that 2.4 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf during the accident, and will be allowed a 40-page brief to recap those arguments, as well as a 25-page response. The U.S. Justice Department presented evidence outlining the federal government’s contention that at least 4.2 million barrels of oil were released in the Gulf during the spill. The Justice Department will be allowed a 40-page brief and a 25-page response. The parties for each trial segment also will be allowed to submit their proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” which will recommend to Judge Barbier how he should write his own opinion. The aligned parties and BP will submit the proposed opinions on the source control issue. The Justice Department and BP will submit their proposals for the oil spill quantification issue.
Judge Barbier did not indicate in his order when he will convene a third, penalty phase of the trial. He will then combine the information from the second phase with testimony and evidence presented earlier this year during the first phase of the trial. As you will recall, the first phase focused on the liability of BP and its drilling partners in their actions during the drilling of the well, the blowout and its immediate aftermath. Judge Barbier, who is hearing the case without a jury, will determine whether BP and its drilling partners were negligent, grossly negligent or acted willfully in its misconduct.
Under the Clean Water Act, parties responsible for oil spills can be fined up to $1,100 per barrel if found negligent or $4,300 per barrel if their actions constituted gross negligence or willful misconduct. That could result in fines ranging from $2.7 billion to $18 billion. Judge Barbier will consider eight factors in determining the fines, including whether the responsible parties moved to stem the flow of oil, and the effect of the fines on their business.
Source: The Times-Picayune
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