BP Begins Its Defense Of 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

In New Orleans, BP has begun calling its first witnesses in a trial to determine who and what's to blame for the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP likely will spend the next two weeks presenting its defense. Then the plaintiffs will have time to respond.

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In a courtroom in New Orleans, the oil giant BP has begun presenting its defense in a case connected to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Plaintiffs include individuals and businesses hurt by the spill, as well as and state and federal governments. And they've argued BP was grossly negligent in drilling the deep water well.

But now it's BP's turn. The company argues that contractors who helped it drill should share the blame for the accident, which killed 11 workers and spilled more than four million barrels of oil.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Gulf spill trial is in its seventh week. Plaintiffs have laid out their case. In court Monday, BP called Ted Bourgoyne. He's petroleum engineering professor emeritus at Louisiana State University. Bourgoyne says BP followed standard industry practices. He refuted earlier testimony from a geophysicist who argued that BP drilled the well in a dangerous and unsafe manner.

Bourgoyne says his review backs up BP's contention, that the accident happened because of a series of mistakes. And he says those mistakes were made by a variety of people, including those working for rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton.

David Uhlmann is a professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

DAVID UHLMANN: The ability to point fingers - if you will - at Transocean and Halliburton is important for BP because the more other companies contributed to this tragedy, the less culpable BP becomes - or at least that's what BP is hoping the judge will conclude.

BRADY: That could save BP billions of dollars, if it leads to the company avoiding the maximum fines under federal law. BP likely will spend the next two weeks presenting its defense, then the plaintiffs will have time to respond. The judge's decision in the case will come some time after that.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.

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