Nearly three years after the Deepwater Horizon accident dumped over four million barrels of toxic crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico, oil giant BP is set to face off against the Justice Department in court Monday.
It all started in April 2010 when a massive explosion on board the platform killed 11 workers and injured many others. The platform ultimately sank and set off a 3-month frenzy to cap the well as oil continued to gush into the Gulf.
BP says it will fight the government’s charges of gross negligence, saying “We have always been open to settlements on reasonable terms… faced with demands that are excessive and not based on reality or the merits of the case, we are going to trial.”
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According to the Times-Picayune, the difference between “negligence” and “gross negligence” under the Clean Water Act means the difference between a $4 billion fine and a $17 billion fine. The editorial cites previous BP safety violations, saying “The bottom line is simple: BP should pay the highest penalties possible to undo the grievous damage it has done.”
Under typical circumstances, major companies almost always come to a settlement when such high penalties are at stake. In a trial, much more uncertainty exists. A guest on Fox News urged BP to settle.
“We’re in a situation now where BP is pointing fingers at people but the reality is, why don’t we sit down and just try to get this settled, BP? And why don’t you just accept that it was a very terrible situation that you created?”
So why hasn’t BP simply settled? A lawyer involved with the case told Bloomberg that with BP shifting blame to it’s sub-contractors Halliburton and Transocean and with 5 states involved, the case is simply too complex.
The Anniston Star sums up the difficulty, saying: “Even if all are determined, in some way, to be guilty, how does one divide the blame in dollars? It will not be an easy task.”
The company still has time to settle should they come to a last minute agreement with government lawyers, but since it’s already been several years, that seems unlikely.