US launches criminal investigation of BP

The U.S. government has opened a widely anticipated criminal and civil investigation of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The announcement steps up the pressure on the British oil company, which is the fourth largest corporation in the world.

“We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” Holder said after meeting with federal and Louisiana prosecutors in New Orleans. The oil spill created by BP’s runaway well threatens to dwarf 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in U.S. history, gushing oil at a rate of 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day since the offshore rig exploded on April 20.

“Our environmental laws are very clear,” Holder told reporters on Tuesday. He said that federal agencies, including the FBI, have launched the probe. “If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be forceful in our response,” Holder said, adding that a “sufficient basis” exists for starting an investigation.

Holder, who recently completed a tour of the oil spill, said that he saw “oil for miles and miles, oil that we know has already affected plant and animal life among the coast.”

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said that more than 100 miles of his state’s beaches have been polluted by oil. Massive underwater oil plumes have been spotted headed toward the Alabama and Mississippi coasts, raising fears that BP’s subsea use of chemical oil dispersants is doing more harm than good. Florida’s Gulf Coast tourism industry continues to take a harsh hit as vacationers change their travel plans.

Both the Justice Department and members of Congress have demanded internal documents relating to the Deepwater Horizon from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. The Justice Dept. will review the companies’ involvement with the Deepwater Horizon spill for violations of the Clean Water Act, the Edangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

“As our review expands in the days ahead, we will be meticulous, we will be comprehensive, and we will be aggressive,” Holder said in a press conference. “We will not rest until justice is done.”