When its Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April of 2010, energy giant BP knew it would face stiff liability and financial losses. The company is about to find out just how stiff.

The second phase of the class action against BP — a lawsuit experts think may be the largest environmental trial in history — began this week in New Orleans. It focuses on whether BP was grossly negligent for failing to prepare for a foreseeable deepwater blowout and for lying to the government about internal information that would have been relevant and useful to efforts to control the flow of oil at its source.

When the blowout occurred, it killed 11 workers and despoiled large areas of the Gulf Coast. At issue now is why it took BP 87 days to stop the flow of oil and the amount of oil that was released during the event.

The answers to both these questions rely on the testimony of fact witnesses and experts who are testifying as to whether they think BP was prepared for such a blowout, as required by federal law.

Judge Carl Barbier is overseeing the limitation liability trial, as well as the consolidated civil action by the U.S. under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act against BP and Anadarko (which held a 25 percent interest the Macondo oil and gas well).

One of the issues of importance in this phase is whether BP knew a catastrophic blowout was likely to happen and if they had an actual spill control plan in place. Major oil corporations are required to provide the federal government with documentation showing that they have viable plans in place. 

The plaintiffs set out to prove that although they had been aware of the risk for two decades (since 1991), BP spent absolutely nothing on research, development or technology to be able to stop the flow of oil at its source. 

Speaking for the plaintiffs, Robin L. Greenwald, Esq. a preeminent environmental attorney with the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C., sought to expose just that as she questioned Robert Bea, a professor emeritus from the University of California-Berkeley in the field of Catastrophic Risk Management.

In trial this week, Greenwald questioned Bea, who claimed that “BP management knowingly ignored required process safety management mitigations for blowout source control in deepwater exploration wells.” He continued, “The blowout source control failures resulted from a disregard of the risk of loss of primary containment and an uncontrolled flow of oil and gas from the well.”

The testimony showed that BP knew there was a risk and did nothing about it. Bea concluded that BP had not kept up with blowout contingency procedures technology. As early as 2001, BP reviewed a very similar scenario and they concluded that their response options were not sufficient.  Greenwald asked what BP did to improve those options. Bea responded, “The BP parties admit that they had not allocated, budgeted, approved, distributed nor spent funds researching, testing, designing or planning.”

Greenwald has spent most of the last 3 years, dedicating herself to her clients and their case. She heads the Weitz & Luxenberg Environmental Toxic Torts Litigation group. In her capacity as a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the BP litigation, she has already helped to secure a settlement-in-principal for full compensation for hundreds of thousands of the innocent victims of this spill.

As she explains, “My underlying goal in environmental tort litigations is protecting the environment and obtaining relief for the people who are injured because of industry pollution that could and should have been avoided. I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish on behalf of the victims of polluters.”

A former assistant chief of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section, deputy chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, clinical professor of environmental law at Rutgers University School of Law and director of that institution’s Environmental Law Clinic, Greenwald has devoted much of her legal career to investigations leading to the prosecution of these types of environmental crimes.


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