BP Exploration and Production Inc. pleaded guilty Tuesday to 14 criminal counts for its illegal conduct leading to and after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and was sentenced to pay $4bn in criminal fines and penalties, the largest criminal resolution in U.S. history, Attorney General Holder has announced.
'Today’s guilty plea and sentencing represent a significant step forward in the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of those affected by one of the worst environmental disasters in American history', said Attorney General Holder. 'I’m pleased to note that more than half of this landmark resolution – which totals $4 billion in penalties and fines, and represents the single largest criminal resolution ever – will help to provide direct support to Gulf Coast residents as communities throughout the region continue to recover and rebuild'.
'The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a national tragedy that resulted in the senseless deaths of 11 people and immense environmental damage', said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. 'Through the tenacious work of the Task Force, BP has received just punishment for its crimes leading up to and following the explosion. The Justice Department will keep a watchful eye on BP’s compliance with the plea agreement’s terms, including the requirements of full cooperation with the department’s ongoing criminal investigation, implementation of enhanced safety protocols and adherence to the recommendations of two newly installed monitors. Should BP fail to comply, we will act swiftly and firmly'.
BP’s guilty plea was accepted, and the sentence was imposed, by U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance of the Eastern District of Louisiana. During the guilty plea and sentencing proceeding, Judge Vance found, among other things, that the consequential fines imposed under the plea agreement far exceed any imposed in U.S. history, and are structured so that BP will feel the full brunt of the penalties. She also noted that the agreement provides just punishment and significant deterrence, requiring detailed drilling safeguards, monitors and other stringent, special conditions of probation so that BP’s future conduct will be closely watched.
BP pleaded guilty to each count charged in an information filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, including 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress and violations of the Clean Water and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. In its guilty plea today, BP admitted that, on April 20, 2010, the two highest-ranking BP supervisors onboard the Deepwater Horizon, known as BP’s 'Well Site Leaders' or 'company men', negligently caused the deaths of 11 men and the resulting oil spill. The company also admitted that on that evening, the two well site leaders observed clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well, but chose not to take obvious and appropriate steps to prevent the blowout. Additionally, BP admitted that as a result of the Well Site Leaders’ conduct, control of the Macondo well was lost, resulting in catastrophe.
BP also admitted during its guilty plea that the company, through a senior executive, obstructed an inquiry by the U.S. Congress into the amount of oil being discharged into the Gulf while the spill was ongoing. BP also admitted that the senior executive withheld documents, provided false and misleading information in response to the U.S. House of Representatives’ request for flow-rate information, manipulated internal estimates to understate the amount of oil flowing from the well and withheld data that contradicted BP’s public estimate of 5,000 barrels of oil per day. At the same time that the senior executive was preparing his manipulated estimates, BP admitted, the company’s internal engineering response teams were using sophisticated methods that generated significantly higher estimates. The Flow Rate Technical Group, consisting of government and independent scientists, later concluded that more than 60,000 barrels per day were leaking into the Gulf during the relevant time, contrary to BP’s representations to Congress.
According to the sentence imposed by Judge Vance pursuant to the plea agreement, more than $2 billion dollars will directly benefit the Gulf region. By order of the court, approximately $2.4bn of the $4.0bn criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving – in consultation with appropriate state and other resource managers – the marine and coastal environments, ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico and bordering states harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This portion of the criminal recovery is also to be directed to significant barrier island restoration and/or river diversion off the coast of Louisiana to further benefit and improve coastal wetlands affected by the oil spill. An additional $350m will be used to fund improved oil spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf through research, development, education and training.
BP was also sentenced to five years of probation – the maximum term of probation permitted under law. The company is also required, according to the order entered by the court pursuant to the plea agreement, to retain a process safety and risk management monitor and an independent auditor, who will oversee BP’s process safety, risk management and drilling equipment maintenance with respect to deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is also required to retain an ethics monitor to improve its code of conduct to ensure BP’s future candor with the U.S. government.
The charges and allegations pending against individuals in related cases are merely accusations, and those individuals are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
image: © Deepwater Horizon Response