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Gulf oil spill: How much flowed? BP trial judge to decide. (+video)

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On Monday, plaintiff attorneys said BP misled federal officials in early reports, saying the oil was flowing at a rate much less than the company’s internal estimates. They say that BP initially reported an oil flow of 5,000 barrels of oil per day, but company engineers were estimating more than 100,000 barrels per day. Early attempts to plug the well, including the “top kill” – which involved pumping mud into the blowout preventer – failed because BP insisted on basing the effort on the lower estimates, they said.

“BP pressed ahead and falsely claimed that [top kill] was a slam-dunk. It failed, just as its outside consultants had predicted,” plaintiff attorney Brad Brian said Monday.

In court filings, BP insists that the unprecedented nature of the disaster forced the company to try measures whose outcomes were impossible to predict and involved a high level of risk. They also say that higher estimates used in company modeling efforts were meant to evaluate worst-case scenarios. A “capping stack” – essentially, a device that could be placed atop a counterpart that failed – was not ready for installation before the top kill experiment, they add.

On Monday, BP attorney Mike Brock said the company “made reasonable engineering decisions based on what was known along each step of the way. That’s not fraud. That’s not gross negligence.” BP spent more than $1.6 billion to cap the well, Mr. Brock added.

“It defies common sense to accept that BP would undertake to execute a top kill procedure knowing that it would not work,” he said.

BP is in “a difficult position” due to evidence that suggests it was aware of the contradictions in its flow rates, says Montré Carodine, a law professor specializing in evidence and transnational litigation at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa.

“There seems to be evidence to suggest they haven’t been truthful about how much oil was flowing, or that they changed their story as to how much. Their actions suggested it was much more than they argued, so now they seem disingenuous at best,” Professor Carodine says.

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