Judge approves BP criminal settlement
HOUSTON — A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday approved an agreement between BP and the Justice Department for the company to plead guilty to manslaughter and pay $4 billion in criminal penalties for the 2010 oil well blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico that left 11 workers dead.
Under the settlement, reached in November, BP pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges. Its payment of $4 billion will resolve all criminal charges related to the Macondo well blowout and destruction of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which spilled millions of barrels of oil and fouled hundreds of miles of shore along the gulf coast.
Several dozen people submitted letters to Judge Sarah S. Vance, of U.S. District Court in New Orleans, requesting that she reject the plea agreement. Some wanted additional financial compensation, while others requested stronger punishment for BP supervisors or a more powerful apology.
“If I had my wish,” wrote Ashley Manuel, daughter of Keith Blair Manuel, one of the 11 rig workers who died, “it would be that the three representatives from BP who sat in my grandparents’ living room and lied to my face about the accident would sit in jail and feel the same pain and loss I feel.”
Arguing in favor of the agreement, the British-based company filed an apology with the court, saying it “deeply regrets the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon blowout and explosion as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf Coast region.”
Had the judge not accepted the agreement, the company would have faced a long and expensive trial, potentially resulting in tougher penalties.
The company’s stock price, which fell roughly by half after the accident, has recovered more than 40 percent of its loss over the past three years. The company has sold off billions of dollars of assets to pay for damages from the accident and is now a smaller company, but still one focused on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company said it had already paid out more than $24 billion on various settlements and cleanup efforts.
The two top BP officers aboard the drilling rig, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, were charged with manslaughter in connection with each of the men who died, and David Rainey, a former vice president, was charged with obstruction of Congress and making false statements for understating the rate at which oil was spilling from the well.
A low-level engineer, Kurt Mix, was previously charged with obstruction of justice for deleting text messages about company estimates of the spill flow rate.
But resolving BP’s criminal responsibility does not end the company’s legal troubles. It still faces sizable potential civil fines before it can put the accident behind it. A settlement with the Justice Department has so far been elusive, and a trial to resolve the remaining civil litigation is scheduled for Feb. 25 in New Orleans.