NEW YORK – BP PLC has reached an estimated US$7.8 billion agreement with plaintiffs suing over the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the company said on Friday, but it still faces claims by the U.S. government and drilling partners. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the litigation, said in a court order that the proposed terms of the class settlement would be submitted to the court for approval.
He also adjourned the first phase of the trial over the spill, which had been scheduled to begin on March 5. Barbier had previously delayed the start of the trial to allow a group called the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, or PSC, to continue to negotiate a settlement with BP.
The committee represents the interests of fisherman and businesses who say their livelihoods were damaged by the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and subsequent spill from the Macondo well.
BP said the cost of the proposed settlement would be around US$7.8 billion, including a BP commitment of US$2.3 billion to help resolve loss claims related to the Gulf seafood industry. It said the proposed settlement was not an admission of liability by the company, and that BP would assign to the PSC some of its claims against Transocean and Halliburton.
Apart from BP, which owned 65 percent of the Macondo well, the main corporate defendants are Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon, and Houston-based Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services for the well. They are also suing each other. Several other companies are also involved in the trial.
Other Claims Pending Eleven people were killed and 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed from the mile-deep well in by far the worst offshore U.S. oil spill.
A settlement would remove a significant portion of the complex case, but it would not put an end to BP’s exposure.
The oil giant still faces claims by the U.S. government, which is pursuing violations of the Clean Water Act and other laws, which could result in fines totaling billions of dollars. Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers that the Justice Department was prepared to go to trial. BP also faces claims from Gulf states as well as its drilling partners.
The U.S. Justice Department said it hoped the settlement would result in swift compensation to those harmed.
Spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said the department was prepared to go to trial to hold the responsible parties accountable for outstanding federal claims for the damage suffered.
“The United States will continue to work closely with all five Gulf states to ensure that any resolution of the federal law enforcement and damage claims, including natural resources damages, arising out of this unprecedented environmental disaster is just, fair and restores the Gulf for the benefit of the people of the Gulf states,” he said.
David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, said the settlement was good news for the victims of the Gulf oil spill “who will see their losses compensated much more quickly than the victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill”.
“It also paves the way for BP to negotiate agreements with the federal and state governments and begin the process of moving beyond the Gulf oil spill,” he said.