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BP mostly to blame for spill, US says

Trial opens in 2010 disaster

The Gulf of Mexico — including Barataria Bay off Louisiana, above — was fouled by 172 million gallons of crude oil.

Charlie Riedel /Associated Press/File 2012

The Gulf of Mexico — including Barataria Bay off Louisiana, above — was fouled by 172 million gallons of crude oil.

NEW ORLEANS — BP bears most of the blame for the disastrous 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico because it cut corners and put profit ahead of safety, a Justice Department attorney said Monday at the opening of a high-stakes trial that could result in the oil company and its partners being forced to pay billions more in damages.

The London-based oil giant acknowledged ‘‘errors in judgment’’ but also cast blame on the owner of the drilling rig and the contractor involved in cementing the well.

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The civil case went to trial after attempts to reach an 11th-hour settlement failed.

Eleven workers died when the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP exploded April 20, 2010. About 172 million gallons of crude spilled into the Gulf over three months.

The catastrophe resulted from BP’s ‘‘culture of corporate recklessness,’’ Justice Department attorney Mike Underhill said. ‘‘The evidence will show that BP put profits before people, profits before safety, and profits before the environment.’’

BP attorney Mike Brock accused Transocean Ltd. of failing to properly maintain the rig’s blowout preventer and claimed cement contractor Halliburton used a ‘‘bad slurry’’ that did not prevent oil and gas from traveling up the well.

BP has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges and has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses, including compensation for businesses and individuals, cleanup costs, and $4 billion in criminal penalties. But the government, Gulf Coast states, and individuals and businesses hope to convince a judge the company and its partners are liable for much more in civil damages.

US District Judge Carl Barbier is hearing the case without a jury and — barring a settlement — will decide months from now how much more BP and the others must pay.

Attorney Jim Roy, who represents individuals and businesses hurt by the spill, said BP applied ‘‘huge financial pressure’’ to ‘‘cut costs and rush the job.’’ The project was more than $50 million over budget and behind schedule at the time of the blowout, Roy said.

‘‘BP repeatedly chose speed over safety,’’ Roy said, quoting from a report by an expert who may testify.

Roy said the spill also resulted from Transocean’s failure to train its crew. And Roy said Halliburton provided BP with a product that was ‘‘poorly designed.”

Brad Brian, a lawyer for Transocean, said it had a well-trained crew. He said their mistake may have been trusting BP supervisors on the rig.

A lawyer for Halliburton blamed BP and Transocean.

‘‘If BP had shut in the well, we would not be here today,’’ Halliburton’s Donald Godwin said.

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