- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A federal judge on Tuesday scheduled a hearing for Jan. 29 in New Orleans to consider a plea agreement by BP Exploration and Production Inc. in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which the company will plead guilty to 14 felony counts, including manslaughter and obstruction of Congress, and pay a record fine.

U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance will either accept the plea agreement and the agreed sentence or reject it, allowing BP to withdraw its guilty plea. If the deal is accepted, BP will receive a stipulated sentence requiring it to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties, be placed on probation for five years and take remedial measures as conditions of probation for its conduct.

In November, BP agreed to plead guilty to felony manslaughter, environmental crimes and obstruction of Congress and pay the fines and penalties for its conduct leading to the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill that killed 11 people and caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The 14-count information, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, charges BP with 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress, and violations of the Clean Water and Migratory Bird Treaty acts. The criminal resolution is structured so more than half the proceeds will directly benefit the Gulf region.

According to a court order, approximately $2.4 billion of the $4 billion criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving — in consultation with state and other resource managers — the marine and coastal environments, ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitats in the Gulf of Mexico and bordering states harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

That portion of the criminal recovery also will be directed to significant barrier-island restoration and river diversion off the coast of Louisiana to further benefit and improve coastal wetlands affected by the oil spill. An additional $350 million will be used to fund improved oil-spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf through research, development, education and training.

In addition to the fines and penalties, BP has agreed as part of its guilty plea 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 on its deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. BP also is required to retain an ethics monitor to improve its code of conduct to ensure BP’s future candor with the U.S. government.

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

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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