BP spill cases head to court as Shell counts cost

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The tide of lawsuits unleashed by BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico breaks into an Idaho courtroom on Thursday, just as the company's rivals are counting the cost of a ban on offshore drilling.

Attorneys hoping to lead the legal fight against BP are set to descend on Boise, Idaho, to address a special judicial panel considering how to bring order to the hundreds of civil lawsuits spawned by the spill after a rig explosion on April 20.

"There will be more lawyers in that courtroom than exist in the entire city of Boise put together," Mark Lanier, a Houston-based lawyer who plans to attend the hearing, joked this week. "It's going to be a circus."

Seven U.S. federal judges will convene more than 2,000 miles from the Gulf's oil-smudged shores to consider which U.S. court, or courts, should oversee hundreds of spill-related suits by injured rig workers, fishermen, investors and property owners.

Potentially adding its name to the line of claimants, Royal Dutch Shell Plc idled seven rigs and took a $56 million charge related to the drilling ban on Thursday. Saying the ban would reduce its production by almost 3 million barrels this year, the company did not rule out reclaiming the cash from BP.

Shell, one of the biggest oil producers in the Gulf of Mexico, said it had idled rigs rather than move them elsewhere because the ban's six-month duration meant it was not profitable to redeploy them to other areas.

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