Gulf of Mexico: disaster by BP

With the ink barely dry on the record-breaking $4-billion check BP wrote to settle criminal charges stemming from its Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, the energy giant now faces a protracted court battle that could cost it billions more.

The civil trial could expose BP to $17 billion in fines for violating the Clean Water Act. If imposed, the fine would be the largest environmental penalty in U.S. history.

Federal District Court Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans will decide whether BP's actions on the drilling rig were negligent – as has already been determined in the criminal case – or grossly negligent, which could force the company to pay significantly higher fines.

The first phase of the trial will focus on the cause of the oil spill and the second phase will attempt to determine how much oil was released.

"We intend to prove that BP was grossly negligent and that the company engaged in willful misconduct in causing this disastrous oil spill," Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in a statement.

Source: Surfrider Foundation

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