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U.S. judge approves BP agreement for Gulf oil spill

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 29 Jan 2013 19:38 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Jan 29 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has accepted an agreement by BP Plc to plead guilty for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and pay ${esc.dollar}4.0 billion in penalties for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, a court official said on Tuesday.

The company had said previously it would plead guilty to 11 felony counts related to the workers' deaths, a felony related to obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors. It also faces five years' probation and the imposition of two monitors who will oversee its safety and ethics for the next four years.

"The judge has accepted the plea," a court official said on Tuesday.

The April 2010 explosion on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers. The mile-deep (1.6 km) Macondo oil well then spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over 87 days, fouling shorelines from Texas to Florida.

With the plea agreement approved, BP has 60 days to send a remedial plan to the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency laying out how it plans to meet all of its stipulations.

The agencies will then review the plan and likely send it back to BP with proposed changes. The plan could go back and forth among all three parties before a final plan agreed to by all sides is reached.

The plea agreement stipulates that nearly ${esc.dollar}2.4 billion be used for projects to address damage to the environment from the Macondo oil spill. Distribution of those funds will be overseen by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF.)

"We are going to be diligent in making certain the funds are used effectively, efficiently and transparently," Don McGrath, chairman of the NFWF's board, said in a statement following the judge's approval of the agreement.

BP's payments will be spread over six years, which the company has said it believes it can handle after selling off ${esc.dollar}35 billion worth of assets. As of November, when it agreed to the plea deal, BP had paid ${esc.dollar}23 billion in clean-up costs and claims, and had ${esc.dollar}12 billion more earmarked for payment in a spill trust fund.

BP is now working towards settling civil claims related to the spill, for which negligence is a key issue. A gross negligence finding could nearly quadruple civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to ${esc.dollar}21 billion.

The British company has already announced an uncapped class-action settlement with private plaintiffs that the company estimates will cost ${esc.dollar}7.8 billion to resolve. The litigation was brought by over 100,000 individuals and businesses claiming economic and medical damages from the spill.

The U.S. government in November banned BP from new federal contracts over its "lack of business integrity" in the 2010 spill, which could threaten its role as a leading U.S. offshore oil and gas producer.

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