BP wins exclusion of emails from oil spill trial

Wed Feb 8, 2012 5:53pm EST

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(Reuters) - BP Plc won a court order keeping several potentially damaging emails out of a scheduled trial to determine responsibility for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Wednesday's ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan in New Orleans came a day after U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected the oil company's effort to keep evidence about settlements it had already reached out of the trial.

The rulings came as Barbier prepares to preside on February 27 over a non-jury trial to assign blame for the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people and caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Plaintiffs include individuals and businesses, represented by a plaintiffs' steering committee that had sought to introduce the email evidence, as well as states and the U.S. government.

The main corporate defendants include BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services for the Macondo oil well. Anadarko Petroleum Corp, one of BP's partners in the well, is also involved in the trial.

Shushan granted BP's request to exclude as hearsay several 2009 emails among Anadarko employees about tropical storm damage to another Transocean rig that had been under contract to BP.

In one email, an Anadarko employee expressed disappointment that BP had not disclosed some information related to the damage, prompting another to respond: "Bummer. I'm amazed that they did not tell us about this."

Shushan also granted BP's and Transocean's request to keep out a June 2010 email from Halliburton employee Ryan Haire questioning their reported findings regarding some tests, saying he had no personal knowledge of those findings.

The judge also granted Halliburton's request to exclude an email from a BP geologist to a colleague in February 2010, offering "thanks for the shitty cement job."

Halliburton contended that the email was no more than a casual, tasteless joke made by one friend to another. Shushan concluded that there was no showing that the email was a "business record" of the cement work that could be introduced into evidence.

Barbier had on Tuesday ruled in Halliburton's favor on whether evidence of BP's settlements with Anadarko and other companies was admissible at trial.

Halliburton had said such evidence could show the settling companies' potential bias in BP's favor, while BP had countered that they were irrelevant to establishing liability.

Bob Dudley, BP's chief executive, said on Tuesday that he was prepared to settle the entire case on reasonable terms, but would otherwise go to trial.

The London-based company also reported a higher quarterly profit and raised its dividend.

BP has set aside roughly $42 billion for spill costs. Lucy Haskins, a Barclays Capital analyst, wrote on Wednesday that the cost could top $60 billion if BP were found grossly negligent.

The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-md-02179.

(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York)

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