Oil is seen in the water off a beach June 14, 2010 on Grand Isle, La. The BP spill has been called the largest environmental disaster in American history. - 

Adriene Hill: A federal judge has delayed the trial over the 2010 BP oil spill. The trial was set to start today, but the judge wants to give both sides more time to reach an agreement.

Marketplace's Sarah Gardner reports there's a lot at stake.

Sarah Gardner: Legal experts say this is shaping up to be the most complicated environmental trial ever. It involves over 500 lawsuits seeking billions in damages and fines for the Deepwater.

Law professor Rob Verchick at Loyola University New Orleans.

Rob Verchick: There are thousands of plaintiffs, hundreds of witnesses, 20,000 plus exhibits and, I’m told, 70 million pages of reading.

No wonder the judge has set aside nearly seven hours just for opening arguments. Plaintiffs include everybody from the feds to fishermen. Damages could run as high as $50 billion, according to some analysts.

Tulane law professor Ed Sherman.

Ed Sherman: And then there are civil penalties and the Justice Department is pursuing those aggressively. And they could run $20 billion.

Sherman says the judge in this case doesn’t want a repeat of the Exxon Valdez litigation. That took two decades to resolve and wound up in the Supreme Court.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner