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BP oil spill settlement window may be closing

The sign for a BP filling station on February 1, 2011 in London, England.

This morning, week two of the multibillion dollar BP oil spill trial gets going.

So far, there have been no bombshells in the plaintiff's opening argument. Though what is surprising to some is that the trial is actually still going on, instead of a settlement over environmental damage.

So far, the plaintiffs have gone over errors in the BP disaster that are widely known: A technician missing blowout signs, questionable well-design and testing.

BP denied gross negligence -- and the market's reaction: hardly any change to the stock price.

"The market still believes that there will be a settlement," says Investec analyst Stuart Joyner in London. "That we're not looking at a three or four year or even longer process in terms of resolution of this issue." He says BP wants to avoid an embarrassing trial, and the risk of losing and shelling out $30 billion.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias says the plaintiffs -- the feds, the states, private parties -- may want to settle as well, avoiding a decade or more of lawsuits.

It's happened.

"The closest precedent is probably the Exxon Valdez disaster," Tobias says. "And that litigation went on interminably."

Conversely, Tobias thinks the value of continuing the trial would be to hash out publicly what happened.

Once court arguments really get going and antagonistic, many analysts say the settlement window will start to close. That could happen in the next week or two.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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