BP Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter, Owes $4B in Criminal Settlement

As a result of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, BP has pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges involving the 11 employees workers who died.

BP has pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter in connection with the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The company has been ordered to pay criminal penalties totaling a record $4 billion.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance first heard testimony from the families of the 11 workers. She approved the guilty plea and the agreement for the penalties on Jan. 29. Vance called the amount "just punishment"; Justice Department and BP did not present arguments prior to the judge's decision.

While this does resolve the criminal case against BP, it does not resolve the civil case the federal government has against BP. The company could still owe billions in restitution for the spill's environmental damage. Of the $4 billion owed, BP will pay about $1.3 billion in fines, the largest corporate penalty ever.

BP will serve a term of five years' probation. The plea agreement, initially announced in November 2012, calls for the company to take actions related to its risk management processes and several initiatives with academia and regulators to develop new technologies related to deepwater drilling safety. BP will appoint a process safety monitor and an ethics monitor for terms of four years, and an independent auditor will report annually on its compliance with the probation terms. At the Jan. 29 hearing, Luke Keller, a vice president of BP America Inc., apologized to the judge and the victims' families. "We -– and by that, I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its board of directors, and its many employees -– are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day. Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologize -– BP apologizes –- to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones. BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologize to the individuals and communities who were injured," he said, according to a news release posted by the company.

The charges to which BP pleaded guilty included a misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act, which triggers a statutory debarment, that prevents a company from entering into new contracts or new leases with the U.S. government that would be performed at the facility where the Clean Water Act violation occurred. But the debarment does not affect existing contracts or leases BP has with the U.S. government.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will receive $2.4 billion as recompense for the negative effects of the spill on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Academy of Sciences will receive $350 million.

Since the spill, four individuals who worked for BP at the time of the spill have faced criminal charges, including the rig supervisors who face manslaughter charges, the former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico for withholding information from Congress about the amount of oil that was leaking, and a former engineer for the company for deleting text messages regarding BP's spill response.

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