By TOM FOWLER
The Justice Department is drawing closer to civil and
criminal settlements with BP and Transocean over the Deepwater
Horizon disaster, deals that will likely include billions of
dollars in fines and penalties.
Settlement discussions have picked up speed in recent weeks,
according to people familiar with the process, although details
of the agreements being discussed remain unclear.
Barring a deal, legal experts estimate that BP could face
tens of billions of dollars in civil and criminal penalties
stemming from its role in the 2010 oil-well accident, which
killed 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in the
history of the US Gulf of Mexico.
Based on government
estimates of 4.9 million bbl of oil spilled - a figure that BP
disputes - civil fines for violating the Clean Water Act could
range from $5.4 billion to $21 billion.
The company could face another $28 billion in fines if the
US alleges criminal violations of the Clean Water Act or other
Under a settlement, the fines would most likely be much
less, said Thomas Claps, a former trial attorney who does legal
analysis for Susquehanna Financial Group.
He estimated that BP faces between $7 billion and $10
billion in civil Clean Water Act fines and between $5 billion
and $10 billion in criminal penalties.
Mr. Claps estimates that Transocean could face $700 million
to $1.2 billion in fines.
A law dedicating 80% of Clean Water Act fines from the
accident to Gulf Coast environmental and economic
restoration was added to a transportation-funding bill on
BP, Transocean and the Justice Department declined to
BP has taken a $37.2 billion charge for what it estimates
will be its maximum spill-related costs. So far, it has spent
about $22 billion on cleanup and payments to individuals and
businesses affected by the spill, and reached a civil
settlement that could cost it another $7.8 billion.
Transocean has set aside $1 billion for spill-related
Even if the government reaches settlements with the
companies, it could still pursue criminal charges against
individuals for their actions before and after the spill.
Prosecutors have already charged former BP engineer Kurt Mix
for allegedly obstructing justice by deleting text messages
that the blown-out well was spewing more oil than the company
disclosed publicly. Mr. Mix has pleaded not guilty.
Several employees who worked on the doomed well are
cooperating with the government, but in recent weeks
prosecutors have told others they are considering filing
charges against them, according to people familiar with the
Investigators have considered bringing criminal charges
against BP and current and former employees of the company for
allegedly filing false information with regulators about
drilling operations on the Deepwater Horizon and another
Transocean rig, the Marianas.
The government is also exploring whether BP officials made
false statements to members of Congress about the rate at which
oil was escaping from the well and whether workers tried to
withhold from the government details of efforts to plug the
The Wall Street Journal (via Dow Jones