Federal prosecutors and lawyers for a Deepwater Horizon rig supervisor are ready to tell jurors what they expect to prove as 65-year-old Robert Kaluza is tried on a misdemeanor pollution charge from the BP oil spill.
A jury was chosen in New Orleans on Feb. 16 for what will probably be the last trial from a sweeping Justice Department investigation into the rig explosion and blowout. Opening statements were to begin yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval told prospective jurors that the trial will take 13 days.
The well blew wild in April 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing an estimated 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before the mile-deep gusher was plugged nearly three months later.
Prosecutors say Kaluza and fellow supervisor Donald Vidrine botched a “negative pressure test” and missed clear signs of trouble before the blowout.
Vidrine pleaded guilty to the same charge, violating the Clean Water Act, and is among 31 possible prosecution witnesses. He hasn’t been sentenced, but it’s likely no one will serve any prison time related to the spill.
Both men were once charged with manslaughter of the workers who died, but federal prosecutors dropped those charges in December. Only four employees, mostly lower-ranking, were charged with individual criminal responsibility for the spill. Most of those cases unraveled before skeptical jurors and judges.
The government did secure a landmark criminal settlement and record civil penalties against the energy giant BP, which BP said would cost it billions of dollars.
The manslaughter charges against Kaluza and Vidrine were dropped after former BP executive David Rainey was acquitted in June of manipulating calculations to match an excessively low estimate of the amount of oil gushing into the gulf.
Former BP engineer Kurt Mix once faced two felony charges for allegedly deleting text messages that prosecutors said were related to investigations of the spill. After a years-long legal ordeal, he pleaded guilty in November to a misdemeanor charge and received no jail time. He made clear publicly that he believed he had done nothing wrong and felt vindicated.