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Somehow, the US just can't shut off the 'wicked BP' news gusher

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By Noel Young | Correspondent

March 4, 2012 | 4 min read

You would have to be in hibernation here in the US to have missed the flood of TV commercials extolling the glories of the pristine beaches once threatened by the massive Gulf oil spill - with the BP logo tagged on at the end of each.

BP: $7.2 billion settlement

The April 2010 explosion presented BP, apart from the enormous 87-day battle to control the leak, with a PR nightmare of unprecedented proportions.

So the beleaguered British oil giant might be feeling relieved that the massive civil action against them in New Orleans was put on hold at the weekend after a settlement of $7.8 billon (still be approved by the judge).

Those suing included the Federal government, and an extended trial was likely to produce another flood of of dire publicity.

So all that's avoided then?

Not quite. Those on the settlement path include thousands of individuals and small businesses - but the Government still has to settle and just over a week ago the Wall Street Journal obtained access to the sealed court filings forming the basis of the plaintiffs' case.

They were damning - and suddenly they were out there , trial or no trial.

BP stood to be accused, reported the WSJ, of making a series of decisions that caused it to be grossly negligent in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig .

In their filing, said the WSJ, the government was prepared to argue that BP was largely to blame for a "series of inter-related failures," that it "knowingly took additional risks" on the well cement job and that its workers were "cavalier" in their handling of the decisions.

The filing argued that BP "knowingly failed to maintain" safe drilling procedures, and that along with drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd. "thoroughly botched" a key safety test of the well, the Journal story continued.

Government lawyers were set to criticise BP for failing to investigate its own mistakes, which it says "implicate the corporate leadership connected to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy."

That included David Sims, said the Journal, the head of BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling operations. He according to the US government, failed to follow up on concerns raised by onshore well team leader John Guide.

His concerns were that many last-minute changes to the project could mean "the operation is not going to succeed."

BP insists that "no single action, person or party was the cause of the blowout" but rather a chain of events where all share the blame, according to its sealed pretrial statement, says the Journal.

An attorney for BP said the company didn't engage in gross negligence but "relied upon reputable contractors to drill, cement, continuously monitor, and control the well." .

Full marks to the WSJ for its journalistic initiative. But BP might be feeling a little weary that the American system can't keep sealed statements sealed - and even $7.8 billion is not enough to seal the gusher of bad publicity.

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