Two people close to the case told The Associated Press that the decision was made Sunday during a conference call between parties in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill case and U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the call.
They said the judge told those on the call that BP and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee were “making some progress” in their settlement talks. The steering committee is overseeing lawsuits filed by individuals and businesses following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf. The blast killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from the blown-out well, soiling miles of coastline.
However, the judge did not mention the status of settlement talks between other parties, nor did he mention any figures being discussed, according to the people close to the case.
The brief order issued by Barbier on Sunday said only that the delay was granted “for reasons of judicial efficiency and to allow the parties to make further progress in their settlement discussions.”
Among other things, the trial that is now set to begin March 5 is meant to determine the penalties that need to be paid by BP and other companies involved in the oil spill. Billions of dollars are at stake.
BP and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee confirmed in a joint news release that the trial had been delayed. It said the oil giant and the PSC were working to reach an agreement that would “fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.”
“There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement,” the joint statement said.
Separately, BP has had discussions in recent days with the federal government and cement contractor Halliburton Energy Services Inc., according to several people close to the case.
If no settlement is reached, Barbier will preside over a three-phase trial that could last the better part of a year. The first phase is designed to identify the causes of the deadly blowout and to assign percentages of fault to the companies involved in the ill-fated drilling project.