Judge Accepts BP's Plea, Settlement Over Gulf Oil Spill

Published in CSP Daily News

Oil company will pay more than $4 billion in criminal penalties

NEW ORLEANS -- BP PLC said that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has accepted the company's plea resolving all federal criminal charges against the company stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, oil spill and response in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance on Tuesday approved an agreement for BP to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges and pay more than $4 billion in criminal penalties for the company's role in the disaster, said the Associated Press.

Before she ruled, Vance heard testimony from relatives of 11 workers who died when BP's blown-out Macondo well triggered an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and started the spill.

BP agreed in November to plead guilty to charges involving the workers' deaths and for lying to Congress about the size of the spill from its broken well, which spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil, said the news agency.

Neither the Justice Department nor BP presented arguments to the judge before her decision in New Orleans.

The company offered its plea to the court and was sentenced in connection with the agreement BP reached with the U.S. Department of Justice on Nov. 15, 2012. The company could have withdrawn from the agreement if Vance had rejected it, the report said.

Four current or former BP employees have been indicted on separate criminal charges, said AP. BP rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine are charged with manslaughter, accused of repeatedly disregarding abnormal high-pressure readings that should have been glaring indications of trouble just before the blowout. David Rainey, BP's former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, was charged with withholding information from Congress about the amount of oil that was gushing from the well. Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was charged with deleting text messages about the company's spill response.

As previously announced, BP will pay the $4 billion over a period of five years and will serve a term of five years' probation. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the court also ordered certain equitable relief, including additional actions related to BP's risk management processes as well as several initiatives with academia and regulators to develop new technologies related to deepwater drilling safety. Also, BP will appoint a process safety monitor and an ethics monitor, both with a term of four years, and an independent auditor will report annually on BP's compliance with the remedial terms of probation.

According to a press statement, at the hearing, Luke Keller, a Vice President of BP America Inc., addressed the court, the families of the deceased and other victims of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and reiterated the company's deep regret and apology for its role in the Deepwater Horizon accident.

"We--and by that I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its board of directors and its many employees--are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day," said Keller. "Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologize--BP apologizes--to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones. BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologize to the individuals and communities who were injured."

BP has to date spent more than $14 billion in operational response and cleanup costs, it said. The company continues to monitor the Gulf and its shoreline, and the company has supported regional tourism, promoted Gulf seafood and committed $1 billion to early restoration projects. BP also set up a process to pay all legitimate claims and established a $20 billion trust to assure Americans that the resources to pay claims, settlements and other costs would be there. To date, BP has paid more than $9 billion to individuals, businesses and government entities and has already agreed to a settlement with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, resolving the substantial majority of outstanding private economic loss, property damage and medical claims.