Less than 24 hours before the trial to decide who should pay for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was set to start (today), U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier pushed back the date of the trial to March 5. The delay reportedly gives BP, the party named responsible for the oil spill by the U.S. government, an opportunity to continue settlement negotiations with the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee, which represents residents and businesses claiming damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill.
Eleven people were killed and 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the incident. The disaster wreaked havoc on the region’s commercial fishing, seafood processing and tourism-related businesses. If no settlement is reached, the trial will proceed in three phases. The first will focus on responsibility for the accident itself, the second will address efforts to contain the spill and the third will address disaster response and clean-up efforts. Some reports estimate the proposed civil settlement to be upwards of $17 billion, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Many industry analysts and experts say a quick settlement is in BP’s best interest, while environmentalists and family members of those lost in the accident have mixed feelings about BP simply writing a check to resolve the issue. Although BP has earmarked $20 billion in redress for victims’ families, many have refused the payout and are holding out for trial – and an apology.
Is a large settlement rather than a long trial in everyone’s best interest? What more could BP do to make amends in addition to agreeing on a settlement?
Edward Sherman, professor, Tulane University School of Law
David Pettit, senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council