NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A multibillion-dollar trial set for Monday into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was postponed to give BP time to reach a deal, BP and an overseeing committee said.
The London oil and gas giant and the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee overseeing scores of lawsuits said U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans adjourned the trial's start a week after a Sunday afternoon conference call between parties so the sides could advance their talks toward a possible settlement.
"Hopefully we will reach some agreements and we will be able to reduce the uncertainty and move forward," BP Chief Executive Officer Robert Dudley told The Sunday Times of London before the postponement was announced.
Dudley is an American appointed CEO after the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig explosion killed 11 men working on the platform and injured 17 others. The oil spill that followed gushed about 4.9 million barrels of crude into the gulf until the leak was capped July 15, 2010.
The largest accidental marine oil spill in history caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, and to the gulf's fishing and tourism industries.
BP faces potential fines and liabilities of up to $52 billion, analysts say.
The world's No. 3 energy company and No. 4 company overall in revenue, which reported a $23.9 billion profit in 2011, says it has $40 billion set aside to deal with the legal liability, after paying about $7 billion to victims' families and people whose livelihoods were ruined. It also paid $20 billion for cleanup.
The company denies gross negligence in the case and says responsibility should be shared with Transocean Ltd., the Swiss firm that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, and Halliburton Energy Services Inc., the Houston firm that poured the concrete that lined the oil well that blew.
Transocean and Halliburton are defendants in the case, along with Cameron International Corp., a Houston firm that made a fail-safe device known as a blowout preventer.
Charges from hundreds of civil cases from plaintiffs -- including the U.S. government, state and local governments, and individuals and businesses -- have been consolidated in Barbier's court.
BP, which has faced huge shareholder pressure to settle the case, said the delay was designed to allow for a settlement minimally with thousands of shrimpers and hoteliers who have sued, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.
It's likely, though not certain, a settlement would also be with the U.S. government, the newspaper said.
BP said Sunday that despite the delay, a deal was not guaranteed.
It was unclear early Monday if the other plaintiffs were close to settlements.
If no settlement is reached, Barbier would preside over a three-phase trial that Dudley said could last two years.
The first phase, as Barbier structured it, would identify the blowout and oil spill's causes, and proportional fault among the companies involved.
The next phases were expected to focus on efforts to seal the damaged well, and questions of environmental damage and health effects related to the cleanup.