Judge sets date for final chapter of BP oil spill trial

HOUSTON – A federal court on Monday laid out a detailed schedule for the penalty phase of BP’s civil trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, setting the first day of the key chapter  for Jan. 20, 2015.

The penalty phase, during which U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will listen to testimony from BP and government attorneys over the British oil company’s liabilities in the spill, will end around Feb. 5 next year, the court said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan set more than 130 dates over the next 10 months for BP and the federal government to submit evidence to the court, join telephone conference calls and hit deadlines for depositions.

In coming months, Barbier is expected to rule on several factors that will determine how much BP owes in Clean Water Act fines.

The environmental fines could reach up to $18 billion, but Barbier must rule on a series of questions to set the amount. The New Orleans judge will have to decide whether or not BP was grossly negligent in the time leading up to the spill and how much oil escaped the blown-out Maconco well in an 87-day spill that began April 20, 2010.

BP has so far paid more than $26 billion in cleanup costs and damage claims to individuals, businesses and governments. It has estimated it will ultimately pay $42 billion in oil spill costs.

Four years after the oil spill, BP has nearly doubled its armada of deep-water drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and plans to invest $40 billion in the region over the next decade.