U.S. Justice Department, states prepare offer for BP

The U.S. Justice Department and several Gulf states have prepared a last-minute offer to BP to resolve civil claims related to the 2010 Gulf of the Mexico oil spill as a trial over the disaster nears, according to people briefed on the talks.

It’s not clear how much will be offered and when — or whether BP would accept such an offer. The people who spoke to the Houston Chronicle declined to comment on any figures being discussed.

Officials at BP, the Justice Department and the states said they continue to prepare for Monday’s trial in federal court in New Orleans.

“BP doesn’t talk about possible offers or negotiations, but I can tell you we are ready for trial and looking forward to the opportunity to present our case starting Monday,” BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said Saturday.

One of the difficulties with any settlement prior to trial at this late stage is that there have been differences among the states and federal government on the best way to proceed. The Justice Department has called officials from the states to Washington several times over the last three years to try to find common ground.

Also, BP’s posture over the last week, at least publicly, has been that it is going to trial. It has waged an all-out public relations offensive as it prepares to defend itself against possibly having to pay billions of dollars more related to the spill.

According to a recent BP filing, the cumulative amount of economic damage claims being asserted by the Gulf states and local communities is roughly $34 billion. That figure does not include federal Clean Water Act claims or natural resources damage claims. BP faces a maximum Clean Water Act penalty of $17.6 billion if it were found to have committed gross negligence and the court were to agree with the government’s figure of 4.1 million barrels of spilled oil.