By TOM FOWLER
NEW ORLEANS -- The much-anticipated Deepwater Horizon trial
began with a flurry of finger pointing here Monday, as lawyers
for BP, Transocean, Halliburton, the federal government, Gulf
Coast states and local businesses traded barbs over who is to
blame for the deadly 2010 explosion and oil spill.
Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, failed to train
its crews properly and didn't maintain key safety equipment,
said Jim Roy, a lawyer for hundreds of businesses suing the
energy companies that were drilling the ill-fated well.
Brad Brian, a lawyer for Transocean, said that wasn't true,
noting that the Coast Guard, federal safety regulators and BP's
own management considered the Deepwater Horizon rig "what
"good" looked like."
Michael Underhill, the Justice Department's lead civil
attorney, focused on a last-minute conversation between BP
engineers on the rig and onshore that he said showed that the
oil giant acted with gross negligence.
But BP attorney Mike Brock argued the accident was caused by
many mistakes made by all the parties aboard the rig, which
exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and unleashing the
worst offshore oil spill in US history. "There were a number of
mistakes and errors in judgment that were made by BP,
Transocean and Halliburton," Mr. Brock said.
The conflicting statements came on the first day of the
civil trial, held in federal district court, aimed at
determining the degree of culpability that BP and the other
companies have for the accident. A second trial, scheduled for
the fall, will determine how much oil leaked into the Gulf of
Together, they will determine the size of fines companies
face under the Clean Water Act, which could total as much as
BP, which hired Transocean and Halliburton to work on
drilling its well, has said the fines would likely be under $5
Both Transocean and the Justice Department focused part of
their opening statements on a 10-minute ship-to-shore phone
call between two BP engineers, Donald Vidrine and Mark Hafle,
less than an hour before the blast.
From the rig, Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about unusual
results from a test designed to ensure the cement sealing in
the bottom of the well was successful. Investigators later
found that workers on the rig misinterpreted the results of the
"In many ways, it's a microcosm of what BP did wrong on this
well and why Transocean and its crew truly are victims of BP's
misconduct," Mr. Brian, the Transocean lawyer, said.
Instructing the crew to go ahead with its work in the wake of
these test results "was reckless, in utter and wholesale
disregard of the facts."
Mr. Underhill, of the Justice Department, said if Mr. Hafle
and Mr. Vidrine had put a halt to the operations after the
phone call they "could have saved 11 lives, saved the Gulf,
saved the people of the Gulf from a catastrophe."
Analysts following the case have said the call is important
as it could move knowledge of problems from the rig to BP
Mr. Brock, BP's lawyer, said Monday the conversation wasn't
about the final safety test but another part of operations, and
that many things were missed by all the parties in the moments
leading up to the accident.
Mr. Vidrine has pleaded not guilty to 22 counts of
involuntary manslaughter, and has maintained his innocence. Mr.
Hafle hasn't been charged; his lawyer said Mr. Hafle isn't a
party in the case and noted that opening statements aren't
considered evidence in a trial.
BP already has agreed to pay more than $30 billion in fines,
settlements and cleanup costs for the blowout and resulting
Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including $4 billion to settle
criminal charges related to the accident. Transocean has agreed
to $1 billion in civil fines and $400 million in criminal
A settlement is still possible. The Justice Department and
Gulf Coast states have considered offering BP a $16 billion
deal to cover its potential fines under the Clean Water Act as
well as payments under an environmental evaluation, several
people familiar with the offer said.
Dow Jones Newswires