BP fights on to oust oil spill claims administrator; meanwhile, judge OKs seafood claims plan

Associated Press

BP is heading to a federal appeals court in its effort to oust the administrator of damage settlement claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The company filed notice Tuesday that it plans to file with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

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BP has long complained about Patrick Juneau's administration of claims. It sought his removal by a federal judge in motions claiming that he had a conflict of interest because he once represented Louisiana in talks setting up the claims process and had pushed for favorable terms for those with claims.

The company also said he had made misleading statements about that work before being named claims administrator. And they said Juneau improperly expedited claims for some people represented by the plaintiffs' steering committee.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier flatly rejected BP's arguments in an order last week.

"BP has appealed that order as it continues its efforts to bring the integrity and transparency to the Gulf claims program that was promised at its inception and that is sorely needed today," BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said in an emailed statement.

In a related development Tuesday, Barbier approved plans for a second round of claims to be paid from a $2.3 billion seafood compensation program. He adopted recommendations from a group of third-party lawyers, referred to throughout his order and the court record as "the Neutrals," recommending disbursement of up to $500 million in seafood claims.

Barbier's latest order comes despite worries from BP about errors and fraud in the seafood compensation program. The judge said there are sufficient safeguards in place to root out fraud and prevent and correct errors.

"In short, BP demands actions beyond what is already being done in the way of fraud investigations, audits, etc.," Barbier wrote. "The Court is well aware of the current procedures and finds that, combined with the recommendations, they are sufficient."

The April 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo well off the southeast Louisiana coast triggered an explosion aboard the rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers and resulted in millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf for months.

A settlement of oil spill economic loss claims reached in 2012 once was hailed by all involved but BP has since complained about the interpretation of the settlement and Juneau's running of the claims process.