BP CHALLENGES $18 BLN
Lawyers for BP have called for a retrial or a revised judgment after spotting what they believe to be a legal mistake in the court ruling last month that the company acted with gross negligence in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The argument is the first formal response that the UK oil group has made to the court's decision, which left BP facing a maximum official penalty of $18bn.
In a filing on Thursday evening to the US district court in New Orleans, BP argued that Judge Carl Barbier, who is hearing the civil case over the disaster, relied on evidence that had been excluded from the trial when reaching his findings.
BP is asking Judge Barbier either to revise his ruling to exclude that evidence, or hold a new phase of the trial to allow BP to put forward arguments to counter it.
The move extends the timetable for BP to file an appeal, which it has said it plans to do. The original schedule gave BP 60 days from Judge Barbier's ruling on September 4 to file an appeal, and it will now have the same period from when he issues his response to this latest motion.
Brian Gilvary, BP's chief financial officer, said in September that the company expected to fight over the penalty for "a number of years".
A finding of gross negligence or wilful misconduct raises the maximum penalty for BP to $4,300 a barrel spilled, compared with $1,100 a barrel in the case of ordinary negligence. Using the US government's estimate of 4.2m barrels spilled into the Gulf of Mexico – which is challenged by BP – that gives a maximum penalty of about $18bn.
In his 153-page ruling, Judge Barbier held that BP had been grossly negligent in two ways. First, its employees had misinterpreted the results of a critical safety test, designed to check whether the well was secure, and had then failed to act on concerns about that test.
Second, it had made at least eight decisions while working on the well, such as drilling in dangerous conditions for the final 100 feet of depth and not running an additional test of the cement used to seal the well, which "taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks".
BP argues that at least four of those eight decisions were connected to the accident only by evidence given by Gene Beck of Texas A&M University, an expert witness called by Halliburton , which provided the cement used to seal the well. BP and Halliburton have been battling in court over how the responsibility for the disaster should be apportioned between them.
In court, Mr Beck set out a theory for how oil and gas had leaked into the well that he had not previously included in his evidence, suggesting that there was a breach in the steel casing used to line the hole.
BP's lawyers objected to being taken by surprise in that way, because they had had no prior opportunity to counter that evidence, and their objections were repeatedly upheld by Judge Barbier.
However, BP argues, when the judge came to give his ruling he included factors that would have been relevant only if Mr Beck's diagnosis of a breach in the casing had been accepted.
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