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article imageBP, Obama race to settle Deepwater lawsuit before Feb. trial date

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 8, 2012 in Politics
New Orleans - Back on track, oil behemoth BP announced on Tuesday it made $24 billion in 2011, and as a February 27 trial date over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon debacle approaches, the company’s lawyers are being accused of “hide-and-stall tactics.”
BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout of April 2010 killed 11 workers, spewed millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, caused the oil giant losses of around $4.9 billion, saddled the company with major compensation expenses, and a trial over the entire sordid affair is now set to begin in New Orleans in just three weeks.
All of the lawsuits against BP over the catastrophe - including injury claims, economic losses and environmental violations - have been merged into one, but reports are surfacing the Obama administration and Gulf states impacted by the disaster are attempting to avoid a trial, instead aiming for a settlement before the trial even starts.
It now appears BP is borrowing a page from a 2009 lawsuit brought against it by Kenneth Abbott, former contractor for the company and a 30-year veteran of the energy industry, over improper documentation of engineering inspections on its mammoth Atlantis offshore platform in the Gulf.
The presiding judge in the Abbott case issued a protective order early on allowing either party to identify certain documents or evidence as confidential. Such orders, according to Common Dreams, are typically used for hiding trade secrets or additional competing information, and BP asked the judge to keep sealed most of Abbott’s evidence.
The “hide-and-stall tactics” forced Abbott’s attorneys to file a motion accusing BP of using the protective order “in an abusive manner, with overbroad blanket confidentiality designations, in an effort to shield this litigation from public scrutiny,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported on Tuesday.
As the Deepwater Horizon trial approaches, BP is attempting to have sealed or struck potentially damaging evidence regarding its refinery explosion in Texas city, along with documents involving employee compensation linked to cost cutting practices, as well as the testimony of former chief executive Tony Hayward.
BP is also attempting to exclude the testimony of outside experts critical of the company.
The Herald-Tribune adds BP’s
repeated attempts to shield itself from scrutiny should be a reminder of the high cost for allowing it to operate in the shadows.
Additional reports suggest BP and federal and state officials are working frantically in an effort to settle before trial, thereby avoiding a decision by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier over the fate of billions of dollars in potential fines and damage payments pertaining to the oil spill.
University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann, former head of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section for seven years, says there is a 70-80 percent chance of settlement before the trial begins.
Uhlmann claims BP would be foolish to fight a government which regulates much of its business and the settlement, including criminal and civil violations, could be for between $20 billion and $25 billion.
“BP decided to continue drilling in the Gulf (after the spill) and in fact is looking to expand its footprint in the Gulf,” Uhlmann said, the New Orleans-Times Picayune reported this week. “BP cannot be successful if the company is in a legal war with the government that controls drilling leases. Making peace with the federal government is of enormous value to BP's business model.”
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