BP may pay largest fine in history over Gulf oil spill
HONG KONG (CNNMoney) — BP said Thursday it was close to striking a deal with the U.S. government that would resolve criminal claims resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The London-based oil company said no agreement has been finalized, but that negotiations with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission were “advanced.”
Any settlement would be subject to federal judicial review, and would not absolve the company of any civil claims. In addition, BP still faces a potential fine from the U.S. federal government tied to environmental damages in the Gulf.
While BP denies an agreement is already in place, several media have reported the oil company has agreed to admit guilt and pay a fine that would be the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.
If true, that pushes the potential settlement’s price tag well past $1 billion.
In April 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and fouled the Louisiana coastline and other parts of the Gulf with millions of barrels of oil. It was one of the worst oil spills in history.
The well was capped three months later, but not before the spill caused extensive environmental damage to the Gulf. Embattled CEO Tony Hayward was forced to resign, and BP shares plummeted.
BP has reached a $7.8 billion settlement with lawyers representing private sector victims. But in September, the Justice Department accused BP of gross negligence and a “culture of corporate recklessness” in a federal court filing, a finding that would expand the company’s liability.
No criminal charges have yet been filed, and a major civil trial set to take place in New Orleans has been delayed until February 2013.
Transocean, the owner and operator of the rig, also has unresolved liability issues. The DOJ, in its September filing, said the company is also guilty of gross negligence.
“BP did not act alone, by any means, and its gross negligence and willful misconduct are inextricably joined with the acts and omissions of Transocean,” the government said in the filing.
The Justice Department says the largest U.S. criminal fine ever was a $1.3 billion payment by drugmaker Pfizer in 2009, part of a $2.3 billion settlement in a case involving the misbranding of Bextra, an anti-inflammatory arthritis drug.