HOUSTON, July 30 (Xinhua) -- While racing against the time to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP had to simultaneously deal with the legal mess left by the disaster.
At a hearing on Thursday in Boise, Idaho, lawyers for disaster victims argued over how piles of lawsuits against the British energy giant should be dealt with and where the trial should take place.
The question of whether the lawsuits from some 200 plaintiffs should be combined still remains. Some lawyers argue the litigation is too massive for one court to handle.
A decision is expected in several weeks.
The plaintiffs, ranging from injured rig workers, fishermen, investors to property owners, were also at odds with BP over the trial venue.
BP insisted the trial should be held in Houston, Texas, where its U.S. headquarters is located.
The firm's attorney Andrew Langan said the city offers better access to evidence, as BP has set up control rooms there to coordinate its response to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
But the plaintiffs disagree. They said the case should be heard closer to locations hit hardest by the oil spill, with New Orleans appearing to be their location of choice.
"Our culture rises as a gumbo of Cajuns, Creole, French, German and Spanish," the plaintiffs' attorney Russ Herman said. "All of that is threatened now. This disaster threatens our hope and faith. That's why New Orleans is the best avenue of justice."
The U.S. Justice Department also requested the lawsuits be handled by a New Orleans federal court.
Justice Department representative Steven Flynn said a case of this magnitude "should be centralized geographically" and that New Orleans "would provide the best access to all litigants."
Meanwhile, BP is speeding up the preparation for its "static kill" plan, the first in a two-step process to choke off the well with mud and cement. It can begin as soon as the crew finish work on the relief well needed for a permanent fix.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is tasked to handle the oil spill, said Thursday that the plan would start by this weekend, ahead of the scheduled start time on Monday.
He also said the U.S. government is laying the groundwork to shift its massive oil spill clean-up operation from disaster management to long-term recovery.
The environmental disaster caused by an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers in April has heavily affected the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries.
Though the well has been finally plugged and the visible effects of the oil spill have largely disappeared, scientists are still assessing the long-term environmental damage.
Some scientists warn the whole ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico could be affected by the spill, while others say the effect could be minimal.