Greed devastated the Gulf of Mexico, BP spill trial told

Greed devastated the Gulf of Mexico, BP spill trial told

But on Monday, they were back in court to deal with the rest of the case. The opening statement from James Roy, a local lawyer representing thousands of businesses still seeking damages, was a reminder that, while the biggest, BP is not the only defendant in the case.

The failure of Transocean to properly train its workers on the rig contributed to the disaster, said Mr Roy. The 11 men who lost their lives in the explosion worked for Transocean, which had a “long-standing failed safety culture”. The captain of the rig had a “deer in the headlights” look when problems began emerging on the night of April 20, the Louisiana lawyer said, pointing to a statement from a witness.

Halliburton did not escape, either. The US company that cemented the well failed to conduct proper tests, prosecutors argued. The laboratory responsible for carrying out the tests were “overworked, understaffed and undersupervised”, said Mr Roy.

The picture that prosecutors for the US government, the Gulf of Mexico states and the local businesses wanted to paint of the companies involved in the disasters was clear: profits trumped safety. Luther Strange, attorney-general for Alabama, told the court that “the evidence will be clear and unmistakable. Greed devastated the Gulf”.

If Mr Roy spread his fire across the defendants, Mike Underhill, the US government’s prosecutor, aimed his squarely at BP. As he began his opening statement with a voice quivering with emotion, a photograph of the burning rig was projected onto the courtroom wall. “The primary fault of this disaster lies with BP,” said Mr Underhill, whose first major case for the US government was the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker that ran around in 1989 and spilt crude into the waters off Alaska.

Beneath the emotion of a tense first day in the long-awaited trial, there were also glimpses of the challenges Judge Barbier will face as he attempts to apportion blame. The role of the blow-out preventer, a five-story-tall piece of equipment that is the last defence against a well blowing, was repeated again and again by lawyers from all sides. Why it failed and who was responsible will be one of the key questions facing the judge.

Just as critical is the question of why the reading of a pressure test on the well – taken just hours before it blew – was misinterpreted. So, too, is the nature of the cement used to secure the bottom and the sides of a well.

“What makes it so complex is that the setting is a highly technical one: deepwater drilling,” said Blaine Lecesne, a law professor at Loyola University.

Judge Barbier urged the lawyers to avoid acronyms to help ensure the public could understand the case. The day began with expectations that his opening remarks would be to delay the trial again because all sides were close to a settlement. But legal experts said that a deal could still happen. If the trial is still going by the end of the month, the opening day suggests that the events of April 2010 will be subject to fuller explanation than anyone has seen so far.

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