Oil company BP admitted guilt on Thursday for 11 counts of felony manslaughter in the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. It also pleaded guilty to a felony count of obstruction of Congress, and violations of environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Act.
The oil giant agreed to pay the largest criminal settlement in U.S. history, $4 billion, which includes a $1.25 billion fine and penalties for environmental damage, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The settlement is to be paid in installments over a five-year period.
The London-based company released a statement on Nov. 15 in which it acknowledged the settlement agreement. A New Orleans federal court will have to accept it before it is final.
Individual indictments for manslaughter, environmental violations, and obstruction came separately.
“Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the deaths of the 11 men onboard the Deepwater Horizon could have been avoided. The explosion of the rig was a disaster that resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence …” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer at a New Orleans press conference, according to a transcript provided by the DOJ.
A federal grand jury indicted the two highest-ranking BP executives aboard Deepwater Horizon with manslaughter over the deaths of the 11 oil-well workers. “The indictment charges these two BP well site leaders with negligence, and gross-negligence, on the evening of April 20, 2010. In the face of glaring red flags indicating that the well was not secure, both men allegedly failed to take appropriate action to prevent the blowout,” Breuer said.
He did not name the two during his press conference. The indictment names them: well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine.
“In the trips that my colleagues and I have made to the Gulf Coast since the Deepwater Horizon spill, we’ve seen the damage—to lives and businesses, as well as coastal areas and wetlands—that this tragedy has inflicted.”
—Lanny A. Breuer, U.S. asst. attorney general
Former senior BP executive David Rainey, who served as Deputy Incident Commander at the spill response site, was indicted separately for obstructing the congressional investigation of the spill, acting on behalf of BP. He is also charged with “making false statements to law enforcement officials,” according to the DOJ, and altering documents that would have shown the severity of the spill.
The Deepwater Horizon rig was about 50 miles off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans when it exploded on April 20, 2010, then sank. Over the next 85 days, an estimated 172 million gallons of crude oil flowed from the damaged well, killing marine animals and birds, fouling air and water, and devastating the region’s economy. Fishing waters were closed and tourism plummeted.
The government and lawyers for the plaintiffs sued Transocean Ltd., the rig’s owner, and cement contractor Halliburton. They were not mentioned in the Nov. 15 announcement.
As for the criminal investigation, “Our work is far from over,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the New Orleans press conference. “In the trips that my colleagues and I have made to the Gulf Coast since the Deepwater Horizon spill, we’ve seen the damage—to lives and businesses, as well as coastal areas and wetlands—that this tragedy has inflicted.”
Holder said civil actions are still in process. “We’ll continue to follow all credible leads and pursue any charges that are warranted.”
Environmental group Greenpeace criticized the settlement. Greenpeace senior investigator Mark Floegel said in a statement that it “fails every aspect of the commonly accepted notion of penalty. This proposed settlement would not hold the guilty accountable for their actions.”
In Floegel’s opinion, the settlement amounts to a slap on the wrist and will not persuade oil companies to improve safety practices.
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