Halliburton agreed Tuesday to pay $1.1 billion to settle claims from plaintiffs who contend they were economically harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the 2010 disaster that has spawned a number of expensive and contentious lawsuits.
Halliburton has long insisted that the cement job it did to seal BP’s Macondo oil well was not to blame for the blowout and fire that sank the Deepwater Horizon rig and triggered the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Nonetheless, the company had set aside $1.3 billion for possible payments.
Halliburton said in a news release Tuesday that the $1.1 billion payment — including lawyers’ fees — would go into a trust in three installments over the next two years.
The money will cover two classes of plaintiffs, including new punitive damages for those who suffered property damage or were in the commercial fishing business. The payment also covers BP claims against Halliburton that were assigned to the plaintiffs as part of BP’s earlier settlement with a group of lawyers known as the plaintiffs’ steering committee.
The deal requires approval by federal Judge Carl A. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Despite the massive payment, Halliburton continues to deny a share of the responsibility for the oil spill. The settlement deal text says that it is “not an admission of wrongdoing, non-compliance, or liability” and that Halliburton “denies all allegations of any wrongdoing, fault, non-compliance, liability” and “denies that it acted improperly in any way.”
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell, however, said that Halliburton’s settlement was an acknowledgement that the fire and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon “was an accident resulting from multiple causes, involving multiple parties.” He said that the “settlement marks the very first time — despite three years of official investigations and litigation implicating the company — that Halliburton has acknowledged that it played a role in the accident.”
Morrell said that BP believes Halliburton “recommended and pumped an unstable cement slurry; intentionally destroyed and failed to produce uniquely relevant evidence showing the slurry to be unstable; and failed to properly monitor the well and detect the influx of hydrocarbons.”
BP meanwhile continues to wrestle with the administration of claims under its own settlement with the same plaintiffs’ steering committee. BP filed a motion Tuesday saying that the court-appointed claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, has a conflict of interest that should disqualify him from judging claims against BP.
BP said that Juneau was an advocate for people seeking payments from BP under the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. The facility had been set up by BP after a White House meeting in June 2010 as oil was still flowing from the Macondo well into the gulf. It was shut down after the London-based oil giant reached its settlement with the plaintiffs’ steering committee.
BP said that Juneau failed to seek a waiver for the conflict. It also criticized what it said were $1 billion in operating costs for the fund, amounting to about $10,000 for every eligible claim filed.
BP has criticized Juneau in the past, contending that he has issued payments from the settlement fund to individuals or businesses that did not deserve them. Juneau has defended his performance in the past, noting that he has also rejected tens of thousands of claims.