Follow David Hammer's Twitter account as he covers the trial this morning from federal court.
NEW ORLEANS – Billions of dollars are stake as U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is hearing arguments Monday about BP’s effort to stop the oil flowing from the Deepwater Horizon during the second phase of the oil spill trial.
Plaintiffs believe the oil giant was ill-prepared for a deepwater blowout and the company used "outright lies" in an attempt to hide that it was totally unprepared for the catastrophe.
BP countered by saying the oil spill response was "extraordinary" and the plaintiffs' argument is "Monday morning quarterbacking at its worst," said Mike Brock, an attorney for BP.
According to the plaintiffs, BP's failure to prepare caused the well to flow for 87 days in 2010, and "BP's plan was nothing more than a plan to plan," as the company’s 600-page oil spill response plan dedicated only one bullet point to source control, said Brian Barr, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
BP tried to hide the amount of oil that was flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, according to Barr, who quoted an internal email that said, "(N)o flowrate information can be released internally or externally."
Also, a BP secretary told an employee not to put larger oil flow numbers in writing, according to Transocean’s representation. "Some folks just could not admit the scope of this disaster and one lie begat another lie," said Brad Brian, a lawyer for Transocean, the drilling company that leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP and provided most of the rig workers.
Transocean, Halliburton, the states of Louisiana and Alabama and private plaintiffs have formed a group called the "aligned parties" against BP for this phase of the trial.
But BP's Brock said it was all too easy for the aligned parties to look back on what happened and say what BP should have done. He argued that the Coast Guard was well apprised of what BP was doing and approved of it at every step. Brock said everyone was trying their best with the information they had at the time, especially making sure to not make the situation worse.
"All of God's children had a flow rate number," Brock said to make the point that nobody really knew how much oil was spewing in May 2010 when BP threw a number of possible solutions at the problem and repeatedly failed.
BP has already admitted in a criminal guilty plea that some of its officials lied to Congress about how much oil was coming out of the broken well, but Brock said the company "did not misrepresent flow rate in a way that caused a delay in the shut-in of the well."
Most of the arguments Monday centered on what hydraulics experts and scientists were saying about the flow of the oil in late April and early May 2010, and what BP was telling the government, the press and the public.
BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles took the brunt of the criticism for telling the federal spill response coordinator at the start of the disaster, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, that the flow-rate ranged from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels per day, even when internal BP estimates put it as high as 83,000 barrels per day.
I questioned Suttles in late June 2010, when the oil was still spewing, and he claimed that "the flow rate has never impacted the response." In fact, the rate of the spill was critical to shut-off efforts like the top kill because scientists warned it wouldn't work on a spill of more than 15,000 barrels per day. Still, BP's CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, went on worldwide television and gave the top kill a 60-70-percent chance of working.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu testified that another BP official told him the top kill was a "slam dunk."
But the top kill was deemed a failure May 29, 2010, and the oil kept flowing for another month and a half before a capping stack was developed on the fly and was successfully installed.
The aligned parties contended that BP knew full well ahead of time that too much oil was coming out of the well too fast for the top kill to work. The aligned parties argued that BP eschewed placing another blowout preventer on top of the one that failed to close in the well in the first place.
The aligned parties argued the BOP-on-BOP option was very similar to the capping stack that finally worked to close in the well July 15, 2010.
But BP's Brock said he couldn't understand why anyone thinks BP would go to the expense of trying things like the "top kill" or the "junk shot" if it knew they wouldn't work. He said the BOP-on-BOP option was never used because it wasn't ready and because BP was afraid it could cause more damage to the well underground and a larger catastrophe.