Legal battles arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill play out in two federal courtrooms in New Orleans next week. On Monday, trial resumes in a district courtroom where BP and a minority partner in its ill-fated Macondo well are trying to fend off billions of dollars in Clean Water Act penalties, and on Tuesday, appeals court judges consider BP's request to oust the man overseeing payments to businesses claiming harm from the spill.
The trial is entering its third week. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has been hearing from dueling experts. They are witnesses called by each side as the Justice Department presses for a penalty for BP at or near the $13.7 billion maximum.
Government witnesses have cited evidence of real and potential harm to environment. Coastal communities' economies and social fabric also were damaged, they say.
BP witnesses have painted a picture of a robust response and strong recovery from the disaster. They disputed government witnesses' findings as BP lawyers argue that the government has ignored some of its own data in pressing for the high fine.
This cane pole indicates where land was once located near a marshy patch along the Bay Jimmy in Plaquemines Parish on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. The grass and mangroves in this area were weakened by the effects of the BP oil spill in 2010 and then later hit hard by Hurricane Issac causing it to erode at a quicker than expected pace. (Photo by Chris Granger, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
Another study has identified a massive amount of oil resting on the Gulf of Mexicos floor, contradicting BPs claims that everything is totally better now and raising questions about the lasting impact of the 2010 spill.
Researchers at Florida State University identified some 6 to 10 million gallons of BP oil buried in the sediment at the bottom of the Gulf, covering a 9,300 square mile area southeast of the Mississippi Delta. Their findings, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, help solve the mystery of where all the oil went: a federal judge ruled that BP spilled about 134 million gallons of oil in total, although government estimates put that amount even higher.
Last year, geochemists at the University of California-Santa Barbara identified a similar phenomenon, of what they called a bathtub ring of oil the size of Rhode Island scattered across the Gulf. The authors of this study, as with that one, express concern about what its doing down there. Jeff Chanton, a professor of oceanology at FSU and the studys lead author, notes that as oil remains deep underwater, it encounters less oxygen, making it more difficult to decompose.
And just because its buried doesnt mean its gone forever. This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come, Chanton said. Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. Its a conduit for contamination into the food web.
A member of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's staff reaches into thick oil in the Northern regions of Barataria Bay in Plaquemines Parish, La., Tuesday, June 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Credit: Gerald Herbert)
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