BP wants U.S. probes barred from oil spill lawsuits

11:00 PM, Nov. 8, 2011 via PNJ; Associated Press

The companies involved in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history are trying to prevent government investigations blaming them for the disaster from being used against them by the people and businesses who are suing them.

Billions of dollars are potentially at stake in a trial scheduled for February to determine whether rig owner Transocean can limit what it pays those making claims under maritime law and to assign percentages of fault to Transocean and other companies involved.

BP, Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton filed motions late Monday in federal court in New Orleans seeking to keep certain government oil spill reports out of the civil case. BP also wants a judge to bar plaintiffs' lawyers from using past criminal, civil and regulatory proceedings against the British firm in the civil case. The companies cited rules of evidence and other procedural issues.

The filings deal with the two most comprehensive federal investigations of the disaster. One that was issued in September by the U.S. Coast Guard and the agency that regulates offshore drilling concluded that BP bears ultimate responsibility for the disaster. The other report by the presidential oil spill commission blamed the blowout on a series of failures involving all the players.

There was no immediate ruling.

In Washington, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, scolded the companies for making the request. He noted that the CEOs of the three companies recently refused to appear before his committee to testify about the findings in the Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement report.

"Whether it's Congress or courtrooms, these companies are trying to whitewash away this dark period in our nation's environmental history."

It's not enough for BP, Halliburton and Transocean to avoid talking to Congress about these oil spill reports, they don't want anyone in the courts talking about them either," Markey said in a statement Tuesday.

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