BP failed to implement a safety plan on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig despite obvious risks of a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the first witness in BP's civil trial for the 2010 disaster testified on Tuesday.
"There is ample evidence of intense pressure within the system to save time and money," said witness Bob Bea, a former BP consultant and co-founder of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley.
Bea argued that it was "tragic" and "egregious" that BP didn't initiate a safety program on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the Macondo well blowout, which arguably caused the greatest environmental catastrophe in US history.
Bea told the court that BP's "culture of every dollar counts" was reflected in a May 2009 email sent by BP well team leader John Guide: "The DW Horizon embraced every dollar matters since I arrived 18 months ago," Guide wrote. "We have saved BP millions and no one had to tell us."
Blea's comments were in line with the prosecution's opening arguments on Monday, who argued that it was largely "greed" that caused BP's gulf oil spill.
"BP was blinded by greed," said Luther Strange, Alabama's attorney general. He stated:
The evidence will show that, at BP, money mattered most. Money mattered more than the environment. Money mattered more than the thousands of jobs and businesses they destroyed along the Gulf Coast. Money even mattered more than the lives of the 11 workers who died on the Horizon rig. Money mattered more to BP than the Gulf. A lot more. Your honor, the evidence will be clear and unmistakable: Greed devastated the Gulf.
Michael Underhill, the lawyer representing the US Department of Justice, said BP knew it was drilling a "well from hell" but that its managers refused to deviate from a "course of corporate recklessness" as it was cheaper to push forward instead of suffer the losses of a failed mission or stronger safety standards.
The prosecution has spent the last two days painting the scene of a chaotic Deepwater rig that was rife with unsafe conditions and a poorly trained crew — all results of BP's cost-cutting.
Subsequently, the other four defendants involved in the disaster — Halliburton, Transocean, Cameron and M-I Swaco — all took turns in court pointing fingers and shifting blame, mostly onto BP.
Halliburton's lawyer said key safety tests were omitted because they would have required time and money for BP.
The case, which is slated to take place over a three month period and involves eleven teams of lawyers, will be decided by judge Carl Barbier.
Prosecutors are fighting for "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct" rulings which would mean fines closer to $17 billion for BP. Fines could be as low as $5 billion if prosecutors fail to make the case.
However, as Aaron Viles writes for the Gulf Restoration Network, the maximum fine of $17 billion would still pale in comparison to the irreparable harm caused to the gulf by the massive oil disaster. Viles states:
As rumored settlement discussions proceed at the same time the trial takes place, we need more pressure on BP and the Department of Justice to do what's right for the Gulf. Let's direct settlement dollars to where they will do the most good while sending the clearest message to corporate bad-actors. Don't let BP write off the Gulf as a 'cost of doing business.'
The rumored $16 billion settlement for all fines and penalties is a pittance. Since BP's actions are clearly grossly negligent, they should pay more than that in Clean Water Act fines alone. And then there's the not-so-small matter of "undoing" their damage, which is required under the Oil Pollution Act. Doing some quick math based on past spills, that amount could easily eclipse $30 billion. Add it all up, and BP is looking at around $50 billion to finally "make things right" under the law. The bigger the ultimate number, the more restoration of the Gulf can be accomplished, and restoring our environment restores our economy.