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BP oil spill trial delayed for settlement talks

posted 26 Feb 2012, 16:52 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 26 Feb 2012, 16:53 ]

Fishing industry workers in southern Louisiana ambivalent about Gulf of Mexico oil spill trial, as BP announces it will be adjourned for a week.

NEAR DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL RIG, GULF OF MEXICO  (APRIL 21, 2010) (U.S. COAST GUARD HANDOUT) - BP has delayed by one week the start of a massive trial to decide who should pay for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, to allow more time to cut a deal with tens of thousands of businesses and individuals affected by the disaster.

In a statement on Sunday (February 26) , BP said the start date for the trial in New Orleans federal court has been pushed back to March 5 from Feb. 27.

The Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (PSC) represents fishermen, hoteliers, condominium owners and other local businesses and individuals who say their livelihoods were damaged by the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and subsequent oil spill.

Eleven people died, and 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed from the mile-deep Macondo oil well, in by far the worst offshore U.S. oil spill.

In Venice, Louisiana, only 42 miles northwest of the ruptured well, there was little anticipation of the trial.

"It's not really going to affect me one way or the other, no matter who gets the blame, who pays the fine or who goes to jail, who doesn't go to jail, who gets away," said hobby fisherman David Wellmeyer, who brought his boat to Venice at the height of the oil spill.

Dan Skermetta runs a fishing lodge out of Venice. He said business has been up and down since the spill, but he has not participated in litigation against BP.

"I think it's just all the big guys pointing fingers at each other. Nobody wants to be at fault or the blame dropped on. It's probably a little bit of all of them's fault because they - not that rules aren't in place already to cover what happened out there -- it's just that they get a little lax, they cut a few corners to keep a job rolling and stuff happens. And it happened," he said.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, many in Venice say business has suffered.

"Business is off. The people aren't coming in quite the numbers that they normally do. Of course, it could be the economy, it could be the perception that this place is tainted, it's hard to say, but numbers are down. The fishing's good but the people just aren't here," harbourmaster Paul Reeves said.

Anthony James was among a group of hunters from Walker, Louisiana taking a trip to shoot rabbit. He said oil was still evident in the marshland, almost two years after the spill.

"When you walk in the marshes and you pull your boot up, you just see it running off. It's definitely still there," he said.

A BP settlement with the businesses would remove a significant portion of the complex litigation, the trial of which was expected to take nearly a year.

But the U.S. government has sued BP and others for Clean Water Act and other federal violations, which could result in fines totaling tens of billions of dollars. Gulf states are also seeking compensation for their losses.

Apart from BP, which owned 65 percent of the Macondo well, the main defendants are Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, and Houston-based Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services for the well. They are also suing each other. Several other companies are also involved in the trial.