BP put profits ahead of safety

That's what Justice Department Attorney Mike Underhill argued yesterday, in the first phase of the trial that could force the oil giant to pay tens of billions more in damages for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. According to the Associated Press, BP has already racked up $24 billion in spill-related expenses and $4 billion in criminal penalties, but could face up to $18 billion more under the Clean Water Act, and additional fines if found grossly negligent in the high-stakes civil trial. The liability of the rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton are also at issue in the trial's first phase.

During opening arguments yesterday, the three companies pointed fingers at each other in a triangle of blame, but BP received the brunt of accusations, from its partners and other plaintiffs in the case. The Justice Department's Mike Underhill piled on, saying, “Despite BP's attempts to shift the blame to other parties, by far the primary fault for the disaster belongs to BP.”

This first phase of trial is designed to determine what caused the blowout and determine responsibility of each of the three companies. This phase could last as long as three months, as the case involves hundreds of attorneys, 90 million pages of documents, and more than 300 depositions from witnesses. Once this phase is complete, the second phase of trial will determine how much crude oil actually spilled into the Gulf.

This trial is one of the most complex and costly civil cases our nation has ever seen, and it will be months before we see an outcome. Although no amount of money can ever fully repair the damage done to the Gulf, or bring back the 11 people who died on the rig, at least we'll finally see BP, Transocean, and Halliburton have to answer for the largest environmental disaster in our nation's history.

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