WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General
Eric Holder said his team is ready to proceed with a civil trial
next week to determine responsibility for the Gulf of Mexico oil
spill from the BP Plc well, despite settlement talks to resolve
some of the matters.
The Obama administration's criminal probe into the April 20,
2010, explosion that led to the massive spill at the Macondo
well and which killed 11 people is also making progress, Holder
told a House of Representatives subcommittee.
The civil trial to determine who is responsible for the
blowout and related penalties was due to start this week but was
delayed until March 5 while BP tries to strike a deal with
condominium owners, fishermen, hoteliers, restaurateurs and
others who say their livelihoods were damaged in what became the
worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"We are prepared to go to trial. We were ready to go to
trial yesterday," Holder told House lawmakers seeking an update
on settlement talks. "We'll see what happens" this week with
regard to a possible resolution, he added.
BP has been trying to settle with the federal government and
the states that border the Gulf of Mexico over environmental
penalties for the spill, but there has been no sign that the
parties are close to clinching a deal.
The oil company is potentially facing billions of dollars in
fines under environmental laws for the oil spill including for
violations of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and
other laws governing natural resources.
"We have a strong case," Holder said. "People, organizations
have to be held accountable, responsible for the lives that were
disrupted, the economic harm that was inflicted upon people that
were innocent, totally innocent."
The Justice Department has been looking also into whether to
bring criminal charges related to the disaster that led to some
4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the gulf.
"I'm satisfied with the progress that we are making, and I
would expect within months we will have something to say in that
regard as well," Holder said of the criminal case.
BP co-owned the well at the time of the accident with
Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Mitsui & Co's MOEX USA unit.
Transocean Ltd was drilling the well and Halliburton provided
the cementing service for it.
Transocean took a $1 billion charge on Monday related to the
2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, a possible sign it will join a
settlement. Its drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, sank.
The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater
Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, U.S. District
Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-md-02179.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)
Follow us on Twitter: @ReutersLegal