BP Plc will pay $4.5 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which left 11 workers dead and caused the worst U.S. offshore oil spill ever.
This is a “critical step forward,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who added this does not end the criminal investigation of the deadly spill.
The Thursday settlement includes a $1.256 billion criminal fine, the largest in U.S. history.
The government also indicted the two highest-ranking BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon during the disaster, charging them with 23 criminal counts including manslaughter. One of the supervisor’s lawyer said the government is using his client as a scapegoat for the disaster.
The April 2010 explosion on the rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers. The mile-deep Macondo oil well then spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over 87 days, fouling shorelines from Texas to Florida.
The company said 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.
BP said the payments would spread over six years, and it expected to be able to handle the payments “within BP’s current financial framework.”
The company has sold $35 billion worth of assets to fund the costs of the spill. Matching that, it has paid $23 billion already in clean-up costs and claims, and has a further $12 billion earmarked for payment in its spill trust fund.
The oil company said it has not heard from any government authority that intends to debar BP from federal contracting activities as a result of the deal.
The lawyers for Bob Kaluza, the BP well manager aboard the rig who faces manslaughter charges, condemned the case against the four-decade oilfield veteran.
“Bob was not an executive or high-level BP official. He was a dedicated rig worker who mourns his fallen co-workers every day,” Shaun Clarke and David Gerger said in a statement.
Kaluza faces two kinds of charges related to the workers’ deaths: Involuntary manslaughter, a broad statute covering individuals whose reckless disregard leads directly to loss of life; and seaman’s manslaughter, reserved for those employed on ships whose misconduct results in death.
As for BP, its settlement does not resolve civil litigation brought by the U.S. government and U.S. Gulf Coast states, which could be a part of the case when it convenes in February 2013.
Holder said at a news conference to discuss the criminal settlement that while the government and BP had held talks to resolve the civil claims, the sides had not been able to agree on a “satisfactory” number. He said a deal was still possible but the government was moving ahead to the February trial.
Negligence is a key issue. A gross negligence finding could nearly quadruple civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion.
Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary said the company’s provisions should be enough to cover liabilities, provided it avoids a conviction for gross negligence, and that it had shareholder support to fight the case should that happen.
Still unresolved is potential liability faced by Swiss-based Transocean Ltd, owner of the Deepwater Horizon vessel, and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing work on the well that U.S. investigators say was flawed.
Halliburton said it “remains confident that all the work it performed with respect to the Macondo well was completed in accordance with BP’s specifications for its well construction plan and instructions. Halliburton has cooperated with the DOJ’s investigation.” Transocean was not available for comment.