Government witness says BP can pay high fine; BP attorney questions analysis

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NEW ORLEANS — A financial expert testifying for the government Friday said BP is financially able to pay a Clean Water Act penalty as high as $13.7 billion — the maximum federal authorities are seeking from the oil giant for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Ian Ratner testified Friday for the U.S. government.

NOLA.comThe Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/1D0zbxI) reports that Ratner's analysis shows BP's assets totaled $315 billion on June 30, 2014, up from $236 billion the year before the spill.

BP attorney Matthew Regan suggested Ratner overlooked the short-term impact a fine would have on the company's operations. He also questioned Ratner's decision to examine the finances of both BP XP and its parent group, BP PLC.

BP XP, the defendant in the case, is the subsidiary that operated the Macondo well.

Ratner said it would be improper for the court to consider BP XP as operating "in a vacuum." The BP group lends money to BP XP and provides it capital, he said.

"You have to look at the whole," Ratner said. "You can't look at the right hand without looking at the left hand."

Attorneys for both BP and Anadarko — a minority partner in the well, fighting government calls for more than $1 billion in penalties — also focused on falling oil prices.

Regan said Ratner's analysis was made last summer, when oil prices were still above $90 per barrel. Oil prices were around $45 per barrel on Friday afternoon.

Ratner said BP and other oil companies are prepared to weather low oil prices.

Ratner, a partner at GlassRatner Advisory & Capital Group based in Atlanta, was the final witness called by the government during the first week of the penalty phase of the civil trial over the 2010 oil spill.

The trial began Tuesday. It resumes Monday, when BP begins calling witnesses. A ruling from U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is not expected until after final briefs are filed in April.

The Justice Department spent the past four days outlining why BP XP deserves to pay the maximum penalty of $13.7 billion, which translates into $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled.

BP is fighting for a lower penalty, closer to the $3.19 billion statutory minimum.

Anadarko argues it had no part in causing the spill and should not be fined.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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