BP: Judge should amend 'gross negligence' oil spill ruling or hold new trial

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NEW ORLEANS — BP has asked a federal judge to reconsider a ruling that could cost the oil giant around $18 billion in additional fines stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Attorneys for BP PLC say in a motion filed Thursday evening that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's (BAHR'-bih-aye) Sept. 4 ruling that the company acted with "gross negligence" in the disaster was based on testimony that had been excluded from the trial.

BP says Barbier should amend the judgment or hold a new trial.

Barbier has scheduled a January trial to determine how much in Clean Water Act fines BP will face as a result of the Gulf of Mexico explosion and oil spill. The gross negligence finding means the fines could be about $18 billion.

BP asserts that a key finding that led to the "gross negligence" ruling was based on testimony that cement used to seal the completed well had been improperly placed, leading to the blowout. That testimony from Gene Beck — an expert for Halliburton, the cement contractor on the rig — had been excluded from the trial on the negligence issue because he had not addressed or analyzed the issue in an earlier report.

"Accordingly, the Court properly barred Dr. Beck from testifying on this issue, and excluded his testimony from the record," BP attorneys wrote.

The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico for months. BP leased the rig from Transocean Ltd.

Under the Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay a maximum of either $1,100 or $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil. The higher limit applies if the company is found grossly negligent — as BP was in Barbier's ruling. But penalties can be assessed at lower amounts.

Government experts estimated that 4.2 million barrels spilled into the Gulf. BP urged Barbier to use an estimate of 2.45 million barrels in calculating any Clean Water Act penalties.

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