BP Urges Judge to Give Final Approval to Deepwater Settlement

Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

HOUSTON - BP PLC urged a judge to accept its proposed plan to settle billions of dollars of claims due to economic loss in the Deepwater Horizon matter, countering objections raised by some of the thousands of class-action plaintiffs.

Judge Carl Barbier gave preliminary approval to the agreement in May, allowing the settlement process to move forward. Before giving his final blessing, Judge Barbier will hear arguments at a fairness hearing Nov. 8.

"Litigating the myriad claims that would be resolved under the settlement would take years, or perhaps even decades," BP's attorneys said in a document filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Lousiana. "By contrast, this settlement will provide swift and sure compensation on a class-wide basis."

The agreement reached between BP and a team of plaintiffs' attorneys in April doesn't have a cap, but BP has estimated it would pay $7.8 billion to resolve most of the claims brought by people and businesses, including $2.3 billion in seafood-related claims by commercial fishing vessel owners, captains and deckhands.

The settlement agreement before Judge Barbier sets the terms for submitting and evaluating claims of economic losses caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill, including what qualifies as a loss and how compensation is calculated. The total amount BP would pay isn't set in the agreement.

Hundreds of objections to the agreement have been filed alleging that the settlement agreement benefits certain class members above others, that it doesn't account for future risks, and that the claims process it lays out is too slow and unwieldy.

But BP's attorneys said in Monday's filing that many of the objectors, such as the states of Lousiana and Mississippi, didn't have standing to raise their complaints, and that none of the objections proved that the settlement was unfair.

"None of the objections filed, taken either individually or as a whole, provides a basis for denying final approval to the Economic and Property Damages Settlement Agreement," the attorneys said in the filing, describing the proposed agreement as generous and noting that few have asked to opt out of the agreement.

BP said in the filing that 217 objections to the settlement agreement have been filed, representing 13,782 objectors. But the company said many of those individuals don't qualify because they don't live within the geographic area of the class, couldn't be located, or have already received payouts from the Gulf Coast Claims Commission.

Of the legitimate class members who have problems with the settlement, BP said they could opt out of the settlement. So far, 983 of the tens of thousands of individuals and businesses that make up the class have asked to take this route, a figure that BP said indicates the fairness of the negotiated settlement.

Claimants who ask to be excluded from the settlement can file their own lawsuits against BP.

Since June, BP has paid $1.1 billion to nearly 27,000 claimants under the settlement agreement. It has received 71,621 claims, the company said in the filing.

Halliburton Co. has objected to provisions in the settlement that assign claims to the Houston-based oilfield-services company. The company said in a filing earlier this month that the settlement would encourage a "collusive alliance" between BP and the settling plaintiffs, giving plaintiffs an incentive to argue that Halliburton bore more of the blame for the incident in any future trial.

BP described that allegation as "unripe" and "baseless" in its filing Monday and said Halliburton has no standing to oppose the settlement.

Several objectors said the $2.3 billion seafood compensation program is inadequate because it fails to account for the possibility that the spill's full impact on gulf fish populations hasn't yet been realized. The state of Louisiana said in court documents that BP has overstated the robustness of the gulf's recovery from the spill and understated the potential for future environmental damage.

"The classic example of chronic injury is the herring collapse after the Exxon Valdez disaster (in 1989)," the state wrote in its filing.

BP said in Monday's filing that allegations that the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused a collapse in the Alaskan herring population are "simply wrong and contrary to the scientific evidence." BP also said a recently discovered sheen linked to oil leaking from an abandoned containment dome used in the Deepwater Horizon spill shouldn't change the agreement.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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