BP’s bid for a new trial over causes of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill should be rejected because the judge didn’t rely on excluded testimony, Halliburton Co. said in court papers.
BP’s own lawyers are responsible for trial testimony that the London-based oil company complains led to an unfair gross- negligence finding against it, according to Halliburton, the cementing subcontractor on the blown-out well.
“BP itself introduced the very testimony that it now claims was excluded and upon which the court relied to partially support its casing-breach findings,” lawyers for Houston-based Halliburton said in a filing yesterday in New Orleans federal court. BP “mischaracterizes” the record of a 2013 trial over the spill “to remedy its own failed trial tactics,” Halliburton added.
US District Judge Carl Barbier, who oversees consolidated spill-damages litigation against BP and its contractors, ruled last month that BP acted with gross negligence in drilling the Macondo well off the Louisiana coast. The well gushed more than 4 million barrels of crude into the gulf, the worst offshore spill in US history.
The ruling exposes BP to potentially more than $18 billion in U.S. pollution fines. That sum would be on top of the more than $28billion BP has already paid for spill-related response, cleanup costs and damages.
Barbier determined the Macondo well failed in part because flawed drilling practices caused a breach to open in the metal casing lining the bottom of the well. That rupture prevented Halliburton’s cement from properly sealing off the sides of the well, allowing hydrocarbons to escape into the pipe and flow to the surface, he said in a 153-page ruling.
BP claims Barbier improperly reached that conclusion by relying on testimony the he said he wouldn’t consider during the trial. The disputed testimony was provided by Gene Beck, a Halliburton expert witness, who hadn’t addressed certain casing- breach causes in a report he wrote before the trial.
Halliburton said BP’s lawyers probed Beck on the casing- breach theory during cross-examination, after Barbier said Beck couldn’t discuss it.
“Beck’s testimony was properly admitted, and the court’s reliance on that testimony is sound,” Halliburton said.
Lawyers for the US, which is suing London-based BP to recover damages to publicly-owned natural resources and for violations of the Clean Water Act, also say the disputed testimony was properly admitted at trial. They said in a separate court filing yesterday that it wouldn’t matter if that particular evidence was excluded now.
“Ample other evidence supports the court’s conclusion that BP damaged” the casing at the bottom of the well and ruined the cement job, U.S. lawyers said in a filing opposing BP’s retrial bid. “Removal of one disputed point of testimony would affect at most only a few sentences” of the opinion and “would not change a single ultimate finding or conclusion.”
Geoff Morrell, BP’s spokesman, declined in an e-mail to immediately comment on Halliburton’s allegation.
David Falkenstein, a spokesman for a group of lawyers representing spill victims, didn’t immediately respond yesterday to telephone or e-mail requests for comment. The cases are In re Deepwater Horizon, 13-30843, 13-31299, 13-31296 and 13-31302, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans). The lower-court case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).