The federal judge conducting the trial dismissed claims against a BP contractor and the company that made the key safety device on the drilling rig. US District Judge Carl Barbier, ruled there was no evidence that BP’s drilling fluids contractor M-I, LLC made any decision that led to the blowout of BP’s Macondo well. On the 15th day of the trial, Barbier dismissed all claims against M-I.
Barbier also agreed to rule out punitive damages against the manufacturer, Cameron International, of the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig (which exploded in 2010 killing 11 workers and causing the enormous spill).
Barbier said, “I have not heard or seen evidence that would in any way support the finding of gross negligence or wilful misconduct on the part of Cameron.”
The judge dismissed the claims against both companies as a response to the requests of both M-I and Cameron that claims against their companies be dismissed. The trial has centered on the actions and decisions of key players – employees of BP, rig owner Transocean, Ltd., and cement contractor Halliburton.
M-I is a subsidiary owned 100 percent by Schlumberger, an oil field services company. Gordon Jones and Blair Manuel, two M-I employees were among the 11 workers killed in the blast.
Even though BP, Transocean, and Halliburton have also requested that claims of gross negligence and punitive damages against them be dismissed, at this stage in the trial, Barbier is not ready to rule on them.
The judge is hearing testimony with no jury. With the exception of a settlement, Barbier can decide how much more money the companies owe for their roles in the disaster. Under the Clean Water Act, BP is potentially on the hook for up to $18 billion in penalties if the judge finds that the company acted with gross negligence.
After the judge ruled to dismiss the claims against the two contractor companies, the trial continued with more witness testimony by Transocean including testimony of the company’s chief executive. Later in the proceedings, BP and Halliburton will be able to call their own witnesses.
The Justice Department called witnesses along with the private attorneys of Gulf Coast residents and businesses and the judge has heard the testimony of more than a dozen of these witnesses. After the last witness for the plaintiff’s testified on March 20, 2013, the plaintiff’s lawyers rested. The last witness is a former laboratory manager for Halliburton.
On Wednesday the judge heard testimony from well control expert Calvin Barnhill. Barnhill testified that he didn’t see any evidence that rig workers ignored safety precautions to rush the completion of the job, which was behind schedule and over budget by millions of dollars.
Although the Swiss-based Transocean president and CEO Steven Newman testified that he believes Transocean employees on the rig could have done more to detect the signs of trouble before the blowout, the company didn’t identify any internal “management failures” which could have led to the disaster. In addition, new allegations against former BP engineer Kurt Mix have been indicted by a federal grand jury.