NEW ORLEANS (CN) - The U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge on Tuesday to impose a fine of no less than $11 billion on BP for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The request came on the opening day of a trial to determine the penalty the energy giant will have to pay for the catastrophe that killed 11 and covered vast stretches of the Gulf Coast with unrefined petroleum.
Steve O'Rourke, on behalf of the United States, said BP should face a steep fine because of the "severity" of BP's violations that led to the 2010 oil spill.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled last week that the amount of oil the discharged into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day-old spill was less than the U.S. estimated.
His finding shrank the maximum possible penalty from more than $18 billion to $13.7 billion. O'Rourke told Barbier during opening statements Tuesday to take the whole fine, or close to it, from BP.
On April 20, 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded 50 miles offshore from Louisiana, Killing 11 workers and unleashing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
This is the third trial to assess oil spill damages.
Although BP's response effort to the spill was the biggest in history, O'Rourke said it wasn't necessarily the best. He said BP was required by law, as the party responsible for the spill, to clean up the mess it made, and that the company is now trying to take credit for not just the work and resources it expended but also for those put forth by the U.S. and five Gulf States affected - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
"BP XP thinks there are some things that aren't required by law," O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke argued in favor of Judge Barbier handing BP close to the maximum or the maximum Clean Water Act fine.
O'Rourke said BP is "modestly important, but not indispensible" to the Gulf of Mexico economy and that many companies would like to come in and take BP XP shares. He also said Anadarko - the company with whom BP owned the Macondo well that blew up during the Deepwater Horizon explosion - is saying companies are "fleeing" Gulf of Mexico oil industry in the wake of the spill and because of the severity of fines imposed, but that "that just isn't happening."
Last week, Judge Barbier ruled that 3.19 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico during the oil spill. By his ruling last September that the oil spill happened because of BP's "gross negligence," Barbier could impose a fine of as much as $4,300 per barrel (had the judge found BP to have been merely negligent, the fine could have been as low as $1,100 per barrel).
BP has stated over and again that the maximum Clean Water Act fine would total more than BP Exploration and Production (BP XP) is worth. But O'Rourke told the judge not to take BP's distinctions between BP Plc and BP XP to heart.