Justice Department attorneys rested their case Wednesday in the federal civil trial of BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., as the firms and the government continued to argue over how much oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico in the 87 days following the April 20, 2010, blowout of BP's Macondo well.
Justice attorneys finished questioning experts who support the government's contention that the oil spill resulted in the release of at least 4.2 million barrels of oil into Gulf. BP and Anadarko have maintained that only 2.45 million barrels of oil were released, and are set to begin making their case Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over the trial without a jury, listening attentively and interrupting at times with his own questions about the often mind-numbing testimony describing the physics and mathematical equations that experts from both sides have used to estimate the flow of oil.
BP's estimate would result in maximum fines of $2.7 billion, billion, if Barbier decides the company and its drilling partners acted with simple negligence, or $10.5 billion if the companies committed gross negligence in their actions during the drilling of the well and in stemming the flow of oil after the blowout.
If the government's estimates are adopted, the maximum fines for simple negligence could rise to $4.6 billion, or $18 billion for gross negligence.
Testimony so far, and the questioning of the government witnesses by BP attorneys, indicated Barbier will be relying largely on educated guesses in determining how much oil was released.
Mohan Kelkar, a petroleum engineering professor at the University of Tulsa, in Oklahoma, testified that Kelkar concluded that between 4.5 million and 5.5 million barrels of oil were spilled by the time the well was finally shut down on July 15, 2010. Kelkar used information about the physical size of the Macondo oil reservoir, BP's pre-drilling estimates of the amount of oil in the reservoir, and pressure readings in the well as it was being drilled before the accident and when it was capped to arrive at the estimate.
But the numbers Kelkar used for each of those factors, and the assumptions he used for the way the oil flowed to the surface were questioned carefully by a BP attorney.
As is often the case in civil trials, BP used its questioning of Kelkar to lay out parts of its own case for the smaller flow rate, pointing to what it contends are incorrect assumptions. See full post