By Loren Steffy and Emily Pickrell
BP has reached a tentative settlement with businesses and individuals harmed by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, officials said Friday night, delaying a trial that had been set for Monday but still leaving many legal issues unresolved.
In a statement, BP estimated that the proposed settlement would be for about $7.8 billion and would comprise two separate agreements, one to resolve economic loss claims — including $2.3 billion toward claims related to the Gulf seafood industry — and another to resolve medical claims.
The settlement negotiated by BP and an umbrella Plaintiffs Steering Committee will be paid from a $20 billion claim fund that BP set up after the disaster, the company said. The fund, established in the summer of 2010 to pay for claims by businesses hurt by the spill, already has paid out roughly $6 billion.
“The proposed settlement represents significant progress toward resolving issues from the Deepwater Horizon accident and contributing further to economic and environmental restoration efforts along the Gulf Coast,” BP CEO Bob Dudley said in the statement.
BP and others involved in the accident still face civil claims from federal and state governments related to possible violation of pollution laws, and the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation. Other corporate defendants — including Transocean and Halliburton — apparently have not settled with the business and individual plaintiffs.
Any deal requires the approval of U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans, who was set to begin a nonjury trial Monday on litigation combining civil complaints by individuals, companies and governments, and cross-claims among defendants.
In a brief order, Barbier postponed that trial indefinitely. He said the settlement will “require substantial changes to the current . . . trial plan” and that remaining parties in the case will need time to “reassess their respective positions.”
Barbier had planned to sort through scores of legal issues in the trial, the first phase of which was to apportion blame among parties.
BP’s Macondo well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana on April 20, 2010. Exploding oil and gas from the well destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 workers, and the well poured an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before it was capped almost three months later.
Friday night’s agreement caps a week of on-again, off-again discussion between BP’s lawyers and those representing thousands of claimants. Barbier last weekend delayed the start of the trial a week to allow both sides a chance to reach an agreement.
Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon but contends BP made key decisions leading up to the disaster, issued a statement saying the settlement didn’t change its positions.
“Delays or deals made by other players do not change the facts of this case, and we are fully prepared to argue the merits of our case based on those facts,” it said.
Halliburton, which cemented the well, had no immediate reaction.
Investigations concluded that multiple decisions, including design of the well, the way it was cemented and interpretation of pressure tests, all may have contributed to the blowout.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, issued a statement saying the government hopes the resolution of the private plaintiffs’ lawsuit “will provide swift and sure compensation to those harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”
As to outstanding federal claims, he said, “although we remain open to a fair and just settlement, we are fully prepared to try the case.”
Several companies already have reached partial or complete settlements.
Weatherford International, which provided the float collar used in the final cementing of the well, settled with BP last year in exchange for protection against any compensatory claims, such as harm to the local economy. Barbier then dismissed its case as to any remaining claims.
MOEX Offshore 2007, a unit of Japan’s Mitsui that owned 10 percent of the Macondo well, settled with BP and with federal and state governments.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which owned a 25 percent share, settled with BP for compensatory claims, but still could be liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water and Oil Pollution acts.
BP reached a similar settlement with Cameron, which built the blowout preventer that sat on top of the Macondo wellhead and failed as the last line of defense against loss of well control.