BP says it should be exempt from fines over collected oil spill

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LONDON (ShareCast) - The US Department of Justice has backed BP (LSE: BP.L - news) 's claim that it should be exempt from penalties regarding the oil it recovered from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, the company said Tuesday in a statement ahead of its trial.

The oil giant faces court next Monday for its role in the explosion of its Gulf of Mexico well which killed 11 men.

BP will defend itself against charges of gross negligence at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

"This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent," Rupert Bondy, Group General Counsel of BP, said.

The first phase of the trial will focus on the causes of the accident, who should be held responsible, and to what degree. The second will deal with penalties in relation to the amount of oil spilled.

Bondy said the government's public estimate of 4.9m barrels of oil released was at least 20% overstated.

The company believes it should be excluded from 810,000 barrels of oil that was captured from the Macondo reservoir, which could potentially reduce its final fine by as much as $3.5bn.

"Under the Clean Water Act, civil penalties are assessed only on oil that has actually entered the environment and potentially caused harm," the group said.

"The US Department of Justice has indicated that it agrees with BP's position on this issue.

"BP believes that a figure of 3.1 million barrels should be the uppermost limit of the number of barrels spilled that should be used in calculating a Clean Water Act penalty."

While BP said it was willing to take responsibility for its part in the accident, it will defend itself against certain claims.

Bondy highlighted the group's efforts in paying settlements to partners, contractors, the Public Service Commission and the US federal government.

Just last month BP agreed to pay $4.0bn over a period over five years during which time it will serve probation, the Louisiana court heard.

"Our actions show that we have been willing to settle," he said, adding that "there are remaining claims which we have been unable to settle on reasonable terms. Consequently, we are prepared to go to trial and present our case to Judge Barbier".

RD