BP Wins Exclusion of Prior Felony Violations from Oil Spill Trial

Sunday, February 12, 2012
BP Fire at Texas City Refinery, March 2005
Oil giant BP, owner of the “Deepwater Horizon” oil platform that exploded April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing 4.9 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, won a major legal battle heading into the trial to determine its liability for the damage caused by the three-month long undersea gusher. Plaintiffs in the case wanted to introduce evidence regarding prior incidents when BP’s safety processes failed, including a 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured 80 others; a 2006 rupture of a corroded pipeline at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, that released more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the ocean; and a series of accidents in 2000 at a Grangemouth, Scotland, petrochemical facility. In the Texas City and Prudhoe Bay accidents, BP pled guilty to felony violations of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, respectively, and paid fines of $50 million and $20 million.
Observing that the liability trial is already expected to consume three months, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans decided that the prior accidents, none of which involved an offshore oil platform, were too dissimilar to the Deepwater Horizon spill to justify spending more trial time on them. As the judge noted, however, his ruling is limited to the liability trial on what caused the accident and who should pay for the damage it caused. If BP is found to be even partially liable, evidence regarding prior BP accidents may well be relevant in determining how much BP should pay in fines or punitive damages for its part in causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
BP Shaky History Excluded in Oil Spill Trial (by Sabrina Canfield, Courthouse News Service)

BP Wins Spill Trial Ruling, Old Accidents Kept Out (by Jonathan Stempel, Reuters) 


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