NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Trial for the Deepwater Horizon explosion will begin Feb. 27, 2012 and will be broken into three phases, the judge overseeing the consolidated oil-spill litigation said. There are more than 100,000 plaintiffs in the litigation so far.
At the monthly status conference on Friday, U.S. Judge Carl J. Barbier said he has not yet issued a formal trial plan, but it “is essentially going to be the proposed trial plan that Anadarko submitted a while back,” which breaks the trial into three phases.
The first trial will be a “limitation trial” and pertains to documents that Transocean filed, seeking to limit its liability for the.
Limitation of liability proceedings are reserved for vessel owners under general maritime law, and allow the owner of a vessel to limit its liability for damages that may have been, but were not necessarily, due to the negligence of the companies responsible for leasing and operating the vessel.
Transocean made and owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. The rig was leased by BP for use at the Macondo well.
The lease to the Macondo well was jointly owned by BP and Anadarko.
The “incident phase” of the trial will begin Feb. 27, and will deal with the conduct of various parties relating to control of the Macondo well, and the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.
Followed by a break, phase two will deal with issues of source control and quantification of discharge.
Phase three will address all other issues, including containment, skimming, dispersants and boom.
BP attorney Don Haycraft told Barbier that with regard to depositions, the parties “have done in six months what most courts might take years to accomplish.”
“We’ve come to the end of an incredibly intense deposition period,” Haycraft said: 176 depositions have been taken in the past 6 months.
Barbier agreed that the material covered in deposition has been impressive.
BP attorney Andrew Langan said BP would begin producing documents that day (Friday) related to contracts with boat owners who participated in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity (VoO) program during the oil spill.
Langan said depositions related to VoO contracts will begin by Sept. 30.
At the height of the oil spill, BP had hired 3,000 vessels for the program, according to court documents.
Several dozens lawsuits claim that BP breached its contracts with vessel owners by failing to pay for days worked and other contract-related expenses, such as decontamination of the vessels after the program ended.
In response to speculation over whether the VoO plaintiffs number in the hundreds or thousands, Langan got a laugh from the court when he said: “There were certainly several thousand vessels out there; hopefully some of them are happy.”
Steven Herman, of the plaintiff liaison counsel, said he believed the plaintiffs seeking damages from breached VoO contracts number at least a few hundred, if not thousands.
Moving along, Judge Barbier asked plaintiff counsel whether they are discussing presentment issues with BP.
During the May status hearing, BP attorneys claimed that presentment of claims to its Gulf Coast Claims Facility is mandatory before a claimant may join the oil spill litigation to seek.
As the “responsible party,” the way BP handles its claims process is governed by the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), which was created after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska.
The Oil Pollution Act states that a claimant must first present to the claims facility established by the responsible party and that 90 days must pass without word from the responsible party or the claim must be rejected before a claimant may litigate.
BP attorneys told the court in May that every litigant who did not first present to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) would be disqualified from the litigation.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Herman told Barbier that plaintiff counsel and BP are working together to build a database to keep track of the plaintiffs and their presentment status.
BP attorney Langan told the judge that while the parties discussing the construction of a database, “The position we took in May is our position.”
The Friday hearing also addressed the status of evidence testing.
Steven O’Rourke, from the U.S. Department of Justice, told the court that cement testing is complete, but analysis of cement from the Macondo well that was found in the supply boat, the Damon Bankston, is pending.
The completed testing involved turning cement powder into cement.
The powder was provided by Halliburton, which was responsible for the cementing of the Macondo well. Analysis of the cement was done by a private company from Houston, Oilfield Testing & Consulting.
The powder-into-cement “results are just a bunch of numbers,” O’Rourke told Courthouse News. The numbers have been given to the parties, and the parties will determine what they mean.
Separate analysis was done on rocks found in the Damon Bankston.
O’Rourke told Courthouse News that analysis of the rocks showed nine that are pieces of cement from the Macondo well.
O’Rourke said it is unknown how the cement pieces ended up in the Bankston.
The Damon Bankston took in Deepwater Horizon survivors as they jumped from the burning rig after the explosion.
The cement pieces will be given to National Energy Technology Laboratory, an agency of the Department of Energy, to be analyzed.
The next status hearing is set for Sept. 16.