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Civil trial targets BP for Gulf oil spill

NEW ORLEANS -- BP put profits ahead of safety and bears most of the blame for the disastrous 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a U.S. Justice Department attorney charged yesterday at the opening of a trial that could result in the oil company and its partners being forced to pay tens of billions of dollars more in damages.

The London-based oil giant acknowledged "errors in judgment" before the deadly blowout, but it cast blame on the drilling rig owner and the contractor involved in cementing the well. It denied the government claim of gross negligence.

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

Eleven workers were killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP exploded April 20, 2010. An estimated 172 million gallons of crude gushed into the Gulf over the next three months in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Justice Department attorney Mike Underhill said the catastrophe resulted from BP's "culture of corporate recklessness."

"The evidence will show that BP put profits before people, profits before safety and profits before the environment," he said in opening statements.

BP attorney Mike Brock acknowledged that the oil company made mistakes. But he accused rig owner Transocean Ltd. of failing to properly maintain the rig's blowout preventer and claimed cement contractor Halliburton used a "bad slurry" that failed to prevent oil and gas from traveling up the well.

BP has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges and has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and $4 billion in criminal penalties.

The federal government, Gulf Coast states and individuals and businesses hope to convince a federal judge the company and its partners are liable for more in civil damages.

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