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11/15/2012 02:25 PM     print story email story  

BP Agrees to Biggest Criminal Penalty in US History: $4.5 Billion for Oil Spill

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BP and the US government have agreed on the settlement price for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 - the $4.5 billion settlement is the largest criminal penalty in US history.

The company will pay $4 billion to resolve claims with the Justice Department and $525 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission for its misleading filings to investors about how much oil was being released into the Gulf.

The Justice Department filed manslaughter charges against BP's two top officers on the drilling rig.

BP will plead guilty to a felony charge of obstructing Congress for low-balling the amount of oil gushing from the blown-out Macondo well.

And it will plead guilty on 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect related to the deaths of 11 people that resulted from the blowout.

"People died, BP lied to Congress, and millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf. This steep cost to BP will provide the Gulf coast some of the funds needed to restore the region, and will hopefully deliver some comfort and closure to the families and businesses affected by the spill," says Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA).

The $4 billion criminal settlement, to be paid out over five years, consists of a $1.3 billion criminal fine, $2.4 billion for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.

BP also agreed to take actions to enhance the safety of its drilling operations in the Gulf, such as third-party auditing and verification, training, and well control equipment and processes such as blowout preventers and cementing. The company has also agree to several initiatives with academia and regulators to develop new technologies related to deepwater drilling safety.

The criminal settlement doesn't bring an end to the matter. In fact, BP today says it's increasing reserve to $42 billion to cover the entire cost for the blow-out.

Yet to come are the biggest claims: Clean Water Act; federal and state Natural Resource Damages; state economic losses and private civil claims.

Fines under the Clean Water Act could add up to $21 billion alone, ranging from $1100 to $4300 per barrel spilled. 80% of those fines will go to "restore and revitalize" the Gulf of Mexico under the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act.

More fines could be levied under the Oil Pollution Act - up to $31 billion to repair damages.

Like it's previous payments - $14 billion for its cleanup costs and $1 billion for early restoration efforts - BP would be allowed to take costs to repair damages as a tax deduction.

The company has also paid out over $9 billion to affected individuals, businesses and government entities.

BP says it agreed to the settlement to eliminate the possibility of further federal criminal charges. It now plans to focus on fully defending itself against all remaining civil claims.

Halliburton and Transocean face separate charges.

Here's what the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force says is needed to reverse the region's declining ecosystem.

"We're stunned. This settlement is pathetic," says  "The $4 billion penalty is equivalent to just a fifth of the company's 2011 profits. The point of the criminal justice system is twofold: to punish and to deter. This does neither. Nothing in this settlement stops BP from continuing to get federal contracts and leases," says Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen. 

"This fine amounts to a rounding error for a corporation the size of BP. Nothing in this proposed settlement gives any oil company incentive to be more careful in future operations. Cutting corners and skimping on safety will still be the rule of the day. Shell will now be eager to return to the Arctic Ocean in 2013, knowing that its inevitable oil spills will be met with similar slaps on the wrist," says Mark Floegel, senior investigator for Greenpeace. "Indeed, if one looks at the fate of BP's stock price - the only metric of value in the corporate world - it's clear that far from a penalty, this proposed settlement would be a reward to BP."

Earlier this year, Greenpeace released previously unseen photos of endangered Gulf species covered in BP oil.

"We still don't know the full ecological story of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. This settlement would buy off further government silence about the full impacts. The Gulf deserves a full accounting for the damage BP has done, and this proposed settlement is simply BP trying to buy its way out of responsibility," says John Hocevar, director of US oceans campaigns for Greenpeace.

"The Department of Justice must hold BP fully accountable as they continue negotiating civil penalties that will be divided among the Gulf Coast States under the RESTORE Act, and this admission of criminal guilt by BP should make it clear that Clean Water Act civil fines served against them should be the highest allowed by law," says Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)

Read about the health of the Gulf two years after the spill:

Website: www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/23621



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