BP Wins Spill Trial Ruling, Old Accidents Kept Out

By Jonathan Stempel | February 10, 2012

BP Plc won a court order to keep references to some previous accidents out of this month’s trial to assess blame for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the oil copany’s second victory in as many days to bar potentially damaging evidence.

Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans followed a ruling Wednesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan to keep out some emails questioning some of BP’s activities before and after the spill.

Barbier blocked the introduction of evidence related to two accidents involving BP facilities: a 2005 explosion at a Texas City, Texas refinery that killed 15 people, and a 2006 rupture of a corroded pipeline at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

In the Texas case, BP pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and accepted a $50 million fine. BP pleaded guilty to a criminal Clean Water Act violation and was fined $20 million in the Alaska case.

Barbier, however, ruled that the prior incidents were “not sufficiently similar” to the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and blowout of the Macondo oil well, which BP mainly owned.

“The prior incidents were all land-based, while the Macondo incident occurred in the Gulf of Mexico,” Barbier wrote. “Additionally, the circumstances of oil refinery disasters and (an) exploratory drilling disaster are vastly different.”

James Roy, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, who include people and businesses harmed by the accident, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

BP was also fined a record $87 million by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety problems at the Texas refinery.

Barbier is scheduled on Feb. 27 to preside over a non-jury trial to assign blame for the Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 people and caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Other corporate defendants include rig owner Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services for the well. Plaintiffs also include the U.S. government, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

BP has set aside roughly $42 billion for spill costs. Chief Executive Bob Dudley this week said the London-based company is preparing for trial, but willing to settle on reasonable terms.

The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-md-02179.

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