Gulf spill judge says ruling could take months

NEW ORLEANS –The first phase of the civil trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill ended Wednesday after eight weeks of testimony.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier gave the lawyers 60 days to file written conclusions about the evidence and then another 20 days to reply to those briefs, suggesting it could be at least three months before he issues any substantive rulings apportioning blame for the disaster.

Phase two of the trial, which will address the amount of oil that spilled, is set to begin in September.

BP wrapped up its defense the same way it began the case in opening statements — it sought to show that multiple parties were responsible for the disaster.

Among its final witnesses was  a former BP vice president who testified that safety was a top priority for the company and there was no discussion of cost-cutting pressures  prior to the rig blast and oil spill.

Patrick O’Bryan, who was vice president of drilling and completions for BP for the Gulf of Mexico at the time of the disaster, was called to testify by BP as part of its defense in a civil trial in New Orleans to accusations that it acted with gross negligence in causing the spill.

“Everybody cared about safety,” O’Bryan said. “They took pride in what they did. They wanted to deliver a well but they wanted to deliver a safe well.”

The British oil giant rested its case Wednesday afternoon. Plaintiffs suing over the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history did not call any rebuttal witnesses.

Barbier is overseeing the bench trial.

Financial fallout: Houston may sue BP for lost taxes after oil spill

Based on his findings, the three remaining defendants in the trial — BP, Swiss drilling contractor Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton — could face billions of dollars in punitive damages. BP could face billions of dollars more in Clean Water Act penalties.

O’Bryan, who visited the Deepwater Horizon rig the day of the explosion to assess its safety and the progress of the Macondo well project, which was over budget and taking longer than expected, said no one at rig owner Transocean told him that BP was rushing them to the complete the well.

Misconduct claim: Former BP engineer says US withheld evidence related to Gulf spill

O’Bryan said the Deepwater Horizon was a very safe, efficient rig.  It was the best-performing rig for BP at the time of the disaster, he said.

“It’s what good looks like,” O’Bryan said.

O’Bryan, who left BP in 2011, is a key witness for BP. Among other things, he led efforts to drill the relief wells after the Macondo well blew out off Louisiana.

BP owned the undersea well that blew out in the Gulf off Louisiana and triggered the rig explosion that killed 11 workers. It was leasing the rig from Transocean for drilling its Macondo well. Halliburton provided the cement used to plug the well.

Saturday marks the three-year anniversary of the disaster.

Shelley Anderson, whose husband, Jason, was killed on the rig, said she will take a trip to the cemetery to lay flowers at his gravesite.

“I am working very hard to give them my complete forgiveness,” she said of BP. ” One day, I will be able to say that I have totally forgiven them for taking my husband from me and my children.  I am sorry I am not at that point.”

Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the legal trials surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: