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Part Two of BP Oil Spill Trial Begins Today

Oil Rig

The second part of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill trial begins today in New Orleans after a brief summer hiatus. The culpability of government contractors BP, Halliburton, and Transocean will be investigated during the trial.

During phase two, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier will determine how much oil actually spilled into the gulf, a figure that is hotly debated. Government scientists estimate a staggering 4 million gallons, but BP unsurprisingly places the number lower at 2.45 million gallons. In 2011, the Project On Government Oversight wrote a letter to President Obama questioning the validity of the Administration’s investigation into the spill size.

Also up for debate is whether BP will be designated as negligent or grossly negligent. As Julie Cart points out in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, the distinction is highly important.

It is the difference between a $4.5-billion fine and the maximum $17-billion penalty.

The prosecution must surmount an extremely high bar to meet a gross negligence threshold.

"To find gross negligence, you've got to prove that there's a known significant risk and that the company said, 'To hell with it, let's go anyway,'" [John] Levy said, [a maritime law litigator and partner at the firm Montgomery McCracken].

For court watchers, every legal move is worth noting.

"It will be studied in law schools; it should be studied in management schools—how to administer this kind of a beast," said Carl Tobias, who studies the federal courts and teaches at the University of Richmond School of Law.

To read more about the trial, and what happened during part 1, see The Los Angeles Times.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman Avery Kleinman is the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Energy and Natural Resources

Related Content: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Energy & Environment

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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