BP plc on Thursday accused the U.S. government of withholding evidence that could show that the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) two years ago was smaller than federal officials claim.

BP faces civil penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA) based on the amount of oil that was spilled into the GOM following the April 20, 2010 explosion, which killed 11 men. The CWA allows maximum fines of $1,100 per bbl of oil spilled, or $4,300 per bbl for gross negligence. Federal experts have estimated that after the well blowout Macondo spewed about 4.9 million bbl of oil before it was capped, which would put a maximum civil fine — with gross negligence — at about $17.6 billion.

However, in a filing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, BP claims that more than 10,000 documents held by government officials have not been turned over to BP, which “appear to relate to flow rate issues” at the Macondo well (No. 10-md-02179).

“The United States’ invocation of the deliberative process privilege here sweeps too broadly,” shielding evidence concerning “a factual issue, namely, the amount of oil discharged,” said the 21-page BP filing. “Fundamental fairness” should allow BP access to this evidence to prepare its defense, the filing said.

In early March BP agreed in principle to pay $7.8 billion to settle claims filed by more than 100,000 private plaintiffs seeking economic, property and other damages (see Daily GPI, March 6). The company still faces legal claims from federal officials, Gulf Coast states and drilling contractors Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co.

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