BP and Transocean officials’ negligence in conducting an oil-rig safety test was one of the main causes of an explosion which killed 11 people at the 2010 Deepwater Horizon expolsion, a US attorney said yeserday on the first day of a gross negligence trial against the two companies.
US Justice Department lawyer, Michael Underhill, and Jim Roy, an attorney for plaintiffs suing the companies, told US District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the trial, that BP and Transocean supervisors failed to accurately interpret the results of a pressure test on the Macondo well, off the coast of Louisiana, which resulted in the devastating accident.
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig spewed four million barrels of oil into the Gulf waters and was one of the largest oil spills in US history, reported Bloomberg News.
Underhill was quoted by the news agency in an opening statement as saying: "BP put profits before people, profits before safety and profits before the environment." Underhill also said that BP executives’ "missteps and reckless decisions" about the safety test were provoked by pressure to generate billions in profits regardless of the costs.
The lawyer claimed BP executives could have evaded the explosion if an on-site supervisor had stopped operations after issues were raised about the negative-pressure test. If BP, the well’s owner, is found guilty of gross negligence it may have to pay as much as $17.6bn in Clean Water Act fines.
BP will also be liable to unspecified punitive damages to claimants who were not part of the $8.5bn settlement, which the company reached in 2012. For Transocean and Halliburton, a gross negligence finding would mean they could be held liable for punitive damages.
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Roy said, in his opening statement, that one of the main causes of the disaster was the "willful failure of Transocean to give its Deepwater Horizon crew adequate training" on interpreting safety tests.
"This gross and extreme departure from good oil-field practice rests with the management of Transocean," Roy was quoted by Bloomberg.
Roy also noted that BP, which was over-budget and behind schedule for the Macondo well, ignored tests that showed unsafe pressure levels in an attempt to complete the project.
Judge Barbier will decide who is liable for damages related to the spill and whether BP, Transocean or other companies were grossly negligent in their handling of the rig and well. He will apply maritime law on the issue that governs this phase of the litigation and if the companies are found guilty, he will determine how much each should pay.
Image: BP head office. Photo courtesy of WhisperToMe.