Judge delays Gulf oil spill trial


A federal trial over the nation's worst offshore oil disaster was delayed for a week to allow more time for settlement talks, a judge ruled Sunday.

About 120,000 plaintiffs filed a combined 535 lawsuits, according to media reports. Among those involved in the suit are numerous marine-related businesses that were hurt by the oil spill.

The trial centers on the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 workers and unleashed the largest oil spill on U.S. waters.

BP, which owned the well; Transocean, the rig's owner; and Halliburton, which provided cement services, are named as defendants in the case.

A report last year by the National Oil Spill Commission spread blame among all three for not properly evaluating risk in the well design, not designing a better cement mixture for the well and not recognizing early signs of the underwater blowout that led to the explosion. Witnesses will include scientists, energy experts and high-level BP executives.

Assuming the trial goes forward, the case is expected to stretch into next year and could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, according to legal experts. Separately, BP and its subcontractors have been in talks with the government to settle a bevy of regulatory and criminal fines.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who will preside over the non-jury trial, has consolidated the myriad spill cases into one case split into phases:

• Phase 1 would attempt to assess blame among defendants for the explosion and release of more than 170 million gallons of crude. It's expected to run through the end of May.

• Phase 2 would look at the containment process and the nearly three-month effort to cap the spewing Macondo well.

• Phase 3 would examine cleanup efforts and the spread of the spill.

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