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Originally published November 21 2012

Oil giant BP agrees to pay largest criminal penalty in U.S. history for disastrous 2010 spill

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) It was considered the largest oil-related natural disaster in the history of the world, so it only follows that the fine would be historic too.

Gargantuan oil company BP has agreed to pay the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history for its negligent role in the massively disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, recent reports said.

A person familiar with the deal told Bloomberg News that the company agreed to plead guilty to 11 separate counts and that the fine could top a staggering $4.5 billion.

Things might get much worse for a few company employees; they may be looking at manslaughter charges over the death of 11 workers who were killed when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig being leased by BP exploded, triggering the massive spill.

So much for BP's 'environmentally friendly' image

A person familiar with all of the details surrounding the case told Bloomberg that BP plans to plead guilty to obstruction of the investigation into what caused the disaster by lying to Congress about the amount of oil that poured out of the ruptured well.

The rig, located 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, eventually sank following the April 20, 2010 explosion. According to estimates, the well on the sea bed spouted some 206 million gallons of crude oil before it was finally capped. The spill soiled sensitive tidal estuaries and beaches and killed wildlife while shutting down immense areas of the gulf to commercial fishermen.

The spill also led to a moratorium on deep water drilling while U.S. officials and the oil industry scrambled to figure out how to clean up the massive spill.

Perhaps more than anything, the spill destroyed BP's "environmentally friendly" image, some analysts speculated. Independent gasoline station owners who used BP fuels said they lost business from customers who were upset over the spill.

Tony Hayward, BP's CEO, left the company after repeated gaffes, including a statement he made at the pinnacle of the disaster, "I'd like my life back."

Estimates put the cost of BP's spill far greater than the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Eventually, Exxon settled that disaster with the U.S. government for $1 billion, which would be about $1.8 billion in today's dollars.

Reports said the government, along with plaintiff's attorneys, sued Transocean Ltd., as well as the rig's owner, and cement contractor, Halliburton. A string of pre-trial rulings by a federal judge undermined BP's legal effort to blame those firms for the spill.

The rig, at the time of the disaster, was drilling into BP's Macondo well. Two days following the explosion, the rig sank into the ocean.

It took several attempts over a span of weeks to cap the well, but engineers were finally successful on July 15, after 85 days of oil flowing into the gulf.

So powerful and impactful was the spill that it added a new lexicon to the American vocabulary, The Blaze pointed out: terms like "top kill" and "junk shot" as crews used innovative solutions in trying to plug the spewing drill hole with pieces of rubber.

People all over the world watched live underwater cam video of the spewing oil, both on cable news channels and via the Internet. The Obama administration was caught flat-footed and seemed unable to satisfactorily deal with a spill government officials ultimately grossly underestimated in terms of how much crude flowed into the gulf.

We don't use terms like 'gross negligence' lightly, says the department run by Eric Holder

In pre-trial filings, the U.S. Justice Department said it planned to argue that the oil giant's actions and decisions prior to the explosion and ensuing flow disaster amounted to gross negligence.

"We do not use words like 'gross negligence' and 'willful misconduct' lightly," wrote an attorney for the Justice Department. "But the fact remains that people died, many suffered injuries to their livelihood, and the gulf's complex ecosystem was harmed as a result of BP and Transocean's bad acts or omissions," the attorney added.

Justice also opened a criminal investigation into the spill, but so far the only person facing charges is former BP engineer Kurt Mix, who was arrested in Texas in April on charges of obstruction of justice.

He stands accused of deleting text messages regarding the company's response to the spill, not what it did before the explosion.


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