The United States and BP could be in the final phase of settlement discussions that will determine how much in fines and penalties the oil company will pay for its 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Civil and criminal penalties for the oil spill would be assessed on a per-barrel basis of oil spilled, meaning BP could be looking at paying anywhere from $5.4 billion to $21 billion in civil fines under the Clean Water Act. If the U.S. determines criminal activity played a role in the disastrous oil spill, BP could face paying another $28 billion in fines under U.S. law.
The Justice Department alleges BP’s spill flooded the Gulf with 4.9 million barrels of oil (more than 200 million gallons) – a figure that BP officials dispute. The Deepwater Horizon explosion also killed 11 workers and injured several others.
Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, also faces paying steep civil and criminal fines, which one legal analyst told the Wall Street Journal would likely fall in the range of $700 million to $1.2 billion. If the U.S. and BP reach a settlement, BP could be looking at paying $7 billion to $10 billion in Clean Water Act fines and $5 billion to $10 billion in criminal penalties, the analyst told the Wall Street Journal.
Eighty percent of the fines are expected to be invested directly in the Gulf Coast states, communities, and restoration projects under the Restore Act. Advocates for the bill say the funds could help clean up the Gulf, restore communities hard-hit by the oil spill, and generate nearly 60,000 new jobs.
Settling with BP does not mean the U.S. would cease pursuing criminal charges against BP employees over the spill, but so far federal prosecution of such individuals has been weak. To date, the U.S. has charged one lower-level BP engineer, not for playing a role in the disaster, but for obstructing justice by allegedly deleting important cell phone text messages.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Several employees who worked on the doomed well are cooperating with the government, but in recent weeks prosecutors have told others they are considering filing charges against them …” Some BP employees could face criminal charges for allegedly filing false information about the Deepwater Horizon and other offshore drilling operations. Federal prosecutors are also looking into whether BP officials lied to members of Congress over how much oil was gushing from the blown-out Macondo well.