The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 30, 2013

Federal trial over Gulf oil spill to resume

(Continued)

"With these uncertain and unique conditions, one overarching principle governed the team's work: 'Don't make it worse,'" they wrote, saying BP deserved "recognition, not condemnation" for its spill response efforts.

The second phase is scheduled to last 16 days over four weeks. The last three weeks will focus on the question of how much oil spilled into the Gulf.

Under the Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay a maximum of either $1,100 or $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil. The higher maximum applies if the company is found grossly negligent, as the government argues BP should be. But the penalties can be assessed at amounts lower than those caps. Congress passed a law dictating that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP must be divided among the Gulf states.

Judge Barbier has outlined a rigid schedule for attorneys to present their arguments and evidence — and a court reporter will use a chess clock to keep track of time.

The judge set no strict time limits during the trial's first phase, which ended on April 17 after the judge heard eight weeks of testimony about the complex chain of mistakes and failures that caused the blowout.

The first phase featured testimony from high-ranking company executives and rig workers who described their harrowing brush with death after an explosion on the rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 of their colleagues. The second phase will consist almost entirely of technical testimony by dueling experts in several scientific disciplines.

The Justice Department's experts estimate 4.2 million barrels, or 176 million gallons, spilled into the Gulf. BP has urged Barbier to use an estimate of 2.45 million barrels, or nearly 103 million gallons, in calculating any Clean Water Act fines. Both sides agree that 810,000 barrels, or 34 million gallons, escaped the well but was captured before it could pollute the Gulf.

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