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BP Says Government Is Withholding|Documents on Oil Spill Estimates

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - BP attorneys have filed new court papers accusing the United States of withholding more than 10,000 documents concerning flow estimates of the broken Macondo well during the 2010 oil spill.

"It seems that the United States is trying to invoke the 'deliberative process' privilege to protect documents that appear to relate, among other things, to its various prior flow rate measurements and calculations," according to the 21-page document filed Thursday by BP attorney Don Haycraft.

"Of the very large number of documents the United States has tried to protect under the guise of the deliberative process privilege (more than 80,000 in all), BP has tentatively identified more than 10,000 that, based upon the descriptions provided in the government's privilege logs and the identity of the governmental entity that withheld the document appear to relate to flow rate issues," according to "BP's Initial Brief and Document Identification Regarding Deliberative Process Privilege," (parentheses in original).

The United States is one of many plaintiffs suing BP for the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan on Friday gave the United States until Thursday, April 5 to reply to BP's document. She ordered the parties to meet and work toward an agreement for sharing documents.

According to the government's final estimate, delivered Aug. 2, 2010, 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled from the broken riser pipe of the Deepwater Horizon during the 87 days the well gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. That estimate accounted for a 10 percent variation based on a collaboration of scientists from various institutions and disciplines.

"The FRTG [Flow Rate Technical Group] announced on August 2, 2010 that it had estimated a total flow of 4.9 million stock tank barrels of oil (which, after accounting for the 811,000 barrels captured via vessels on the surface without entering water, would translate to 4.1 million stock tank barrels discharged to water)," BP's document states. (Parentheses in original.)

BP says the government's earlier estimates may have been lower.

BP agreed on March 2 this year to pay about $7.8 billion to cover personal injuries and other damages arising from the oil spill.

That settlement does not address the fines BP still faces for environmental damages under the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

The baseline fine BP will face under the Clean Water Act is $1,100 per barrel of oil. If the court finds gross negligence, that penalty can rise as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil, or $17.6 billion, using the estimate of 4.1 million barrels of oil not captured before entering water.

Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle declined to comment on the filing.

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