- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2012

BP Exploration and Production Inc. agreed Thursday to plead guilty to felony manslaughter, environmental crimes and obstruction of Congress and to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties for its conduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people and caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the agreement, saying a 14-count information filed in U.S. District Court in Louisiana accused BP of 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress, and violations of the Clean Water and Migratory Bird Treaty acts.

He said BP signed a guilty-plea agreement admitting to its criminal conduct and, subject to approval by the court, said it would pay the largest criminal fines and penalties in U.S. history.

“The $4 billion in penalties and fines is the single largest criminal resolution in the history of the United States and constitutes a major achievement toward fulfilling a promise that the Justice Department made nearly two years ago to respond to the consequences of this epic environmental disaster and seek justice on behalf of its victims,” Mr. Holder said.

“We specifically structured this resolution to ensure that more than half of the proceeds directly benefit the Gulf Coast region so that residents can continue to recover and rebuild,” he said.

In addition to the resolution of charges against BP, Robert M. Kaluza, 62, of Henderson, Nev., and Donald J. Vidrine, 65, of Lafayette, La. – the top-ranking BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010 – are accused of engaging in negligent conduct in a 23-count indictment including felony manslaughter charges.

David I. Rainey, 58, of Houston, a former BP executive who served as a deputy incident commander and BP’s second-highest-ranking representative during the spill response, is charged with obstruction of Congress and making false statements to law enforcement officials.

A grand jury in Louisiana returned the indictments against the three officials Thursday.

According to court documents, while stationed at the Macondo well site in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig experienced an uncontrolled blowout and related explosions. In agreeing to plead guilty, BP admitted that the two supervisors negligently caused the deaths and the resulting oil spill.

The documents said that on the evening of April 20, Mr. Kaluza and Mr. Vidrine observed clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well. Despite this, the documents said BP’s well-site leaders chose not to take “obvious and appropriate steps to prevent the blowout.” As a result of their conduct, the documents said, the Macondo well was lost, resulting in catastrophe.

Mr. Kaluza and Mr. Vidrine are each charged with 11 felony counts of seaman’s manslaughter, 11 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and one violation of the Clean Water Act.

The documents also said the company, through Mr. Rainey, obstructed an inquiry by Congress into the amount of oil being discharged into the Gulf while the spill was ongoing. As part of the plea agreement, BP admitted that it withheld documents and provided false and misleading information in response to a House request for flow-rate information.

BP also admitted, according to the documents, that Mr. Rainey 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, although government and independent scientists later concluded that more than 60,000 barrels per day were leaking into the Gulf.

Mr. Rainey is charged with one count of obstruction of Congress and one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials.

A court order has established that more than half of the proceeds will directly benefit the Gulf region. As a result, about $2.4 billion of the $4 billion criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving 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.