Blogs » The nature of things » BP is back in court, faces up to $17 billion in penalties for spill

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The trial to determine whether British Petroleum and other contractors were "grossly negligent" started Monday, according to an Associated Press story.

If BP alone is convicted of negligence in the oil spill that caused the deaths of 11 rig workers, and environmental damage, it could cost the British energy company up to $17 billion in penalties, crippling the energy giant.

In the days leading up to the trial, many expected BP and federal and state officials would work out a deal, specifically one where BP would pay $16 billion in penalties (vs. the kinds of fines incurred by violating the Clean Water Act - penalties are tax deductible, but fines are not).

While only Alabama and Louisiana are in the lawsuit, a conviction or settlement stands to benefit all five of the coastal states impacted by the 2010 spill, including Texas.

The last trial over the spill, which was slated to start Feb. 27 2012, never made it to court, finding an eleventh hour settlement, to avoid leaving the decision in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier.

If they settle it could all be over tomorrow, while a trial could drag this process out for years. It'll be interesting to see which way things go.

This trial is expected to last about three months, but maybe a taste of court will bring both parties back to the table to make a settlement.