British multinational oil and gas company BP and the US Justice Department were reported to have made an effort on Sunday to strike a last-minute settlement, to avoid a court trial over the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, which is scheduled to begin in New Orleans on Monday.
The Justice Department and Gulf states agreed during the weekend to offer BP a $16bn agreement to settle civil claims related to the deadly oil rig accident, which killed 11 people and led to the largest oil spill in US history, reported The Guardian.
However, the offer appears to have been rejected by BP. Head of US communications Geoff Morrell was quoted by the newspaper as saying: "BP doesn’t talk about possible offers or negotiations, but I can tell you we are ready for trial and looking forward to the opportunity to present our case starting Monday."
In a press statement released on 19 February 2013, BP said it "will vigorously defend against gross negligence allegations".
Last week, discussions between the states, the Justice Department and BP failed, when the states opposed to the size of any deal and its structure. The trial, which is anticipated to be one of the biggest in decades, will commence with 400 minutes of opening arguments from 11 teams of lawyers.
The proceeding will be the first of two phases the court has decided for the trial, which will concentrate on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident, who should be held responsible and to what degree.
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In 2012, the US said in a court filing that BP had a "culture of corporate recklessness" and had acted with "gross negligence or willful misconduct."
If gross negligence is proved against BP, the maximum civil penalty possible under the clean water act will increase from $1,100 per barrel spilled through ordinary negligence to $4,300 per barrel.
Depending on how the court rules, BP’s bill is speculated to be as low as $5bn or as high as $17.5bn.
The second phase of the trial, which is expected to commence in September 2013, will address issues related to oil flow rate and quantification of barrels of oil spilled. BP has said before that the government’s public estimate of 4.9 million barrels of oil released is exaggerated by 20%.
Image: Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit on fire. Photo courtesy of USCG.