Judge okays BP plea, $4 billion penalty in Gulf oil spill

Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:57pm EST
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(Reuters) - A U.S. judge accepted an agreement by BP Plc to plead guilty for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The company said it pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts related to workers' deaths, a felony related to obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors. It faces five years' probation and the imposition of two monitors who will oversee its safety and ethics for the next four years.

After the April 2010 explosion on the Transocean rig in the Gulf of Mexico, 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf over 87 days. Shorelines from Texas to Florida were fouled before responders could cap the mile-deep well.

BP has struggled with political, financial and legal fallout ever since. Even after settling federal criminal charges, the company faces civil penalties of up to $21 billion and separate state claims due to be heard at a trial starting in New Orleans on February 25.

Alabama's attorney general, Luther Strange, said the BP sentence was welcome for setting some federal money aside to restore the Gulf coast, but he planned to press ahead with his state's own claims for economic and natural resource damages.

"I look forward to presenting Alabama's case that BP was grossly negligent when we have our day in court next month," Strange said in a statement.

Transocean, owner of the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig, agreed this month to pay $1.4 billion to settle U.S. government charges over the disaster.

Halliburton Co, the oilfield services company that performed cementing work on the Macondo well and is being sued in the civil litigation along with BP, said on Friday it was working on its defense ahead of the trial next month.

BP, with its federal plea agreement now approved, has 60 days to send a remedial plan to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency laying out how it plans to meet all its stipulations. The plan could go back and forth among the three parties before it is agreed to by all sides.   Continued...

Smoke billows from a controlled burn of spilled oil off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico coast line in this file photo taken June 13, 2010. REUTERS/Sean Gardner/Files