|Photo by Justin2004|
British oil giant BP announced on Thursday that it will settle criminal charges brought by the U.S. Government for $4.5 billion, the largest criminal fine on record. The charges stem from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s history.
BP has pled guilty to corporate manslaughter charges, felony count of obstruction of Congress and a two misdemeanor counts under the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty.
The damage was unprecedented after BP’s offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010, and spilled oil into the Gulf of Mexico unabated for roughly three months. Eleven people were killed in the initial blast and nearly 5 million barrels of oil was spilled into the Gulf before the leak was capped on July 15.
Out of the $4.5 billion settlement, $4 billion will resolve the criminal charges and roughly $525 will settle SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) claims that BP misled investors about the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf. In addition to these charges, the two top-ranking BP supervisors on board the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded have been charged by a federal grand jury with 23 criminal counts, which include involuntary manslaughter and seaman’s manslaughter for the 11 men who were killed in the explosion.
In addition to these record charges and penalties the oil giant still faces additional civil charges. The US Government accused BP of gross negligence in the spill, and a civil trial is set for February of the coming year. Industry insiders expect the biggest obstacle for BP will be the potential civil penalty stemming from the Clean Water Act for the oil spill itself. BP faces a penalty between $3.5 billion and $5 billion on the minimum end, and faces a fine of $20 billion if they are found guilty of gross negligence.
So far the company has paid $42 billion in costs related to the spill, including an earlier $7.8 billion settlement with private sector victims.
According to the terms of the settlement, BP will have up to six years to pay the penalties. CNN reports that most of the money will eventually go to an independent non-profit conservation group called the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The National Academy of Science will also receive money from the settlement, reports said.