NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 15, 2012 - BP has pleaded guilty to numerous criminal charges resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and has agreed to pay $4.5 billion in a settlement agreement with the United States. The settlement includes a guilty plea of obstruction for lying about the size of the spill. While the fine is substantial, it is less than the oil company's recent quarterly profits, and not nearly enough to clean up the environmental devastation caused by the nation's largest oil spill.
Today's settlement does not address BP's liability for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which under the Act could be well over $20 billion. In June 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity brought a citizen suit against BP seeking the maximum amount of civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and federal right-to-know statutes. A hearing is scheduled before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Dec. 4 in New Orleans.
"These penalties don't close the book on this disaster. We continue our fight for full accountability from BP and environmental justice for the Gulf of Mexico region," said Marc Fink, an attorney at the Center. "As we have said from the very beginning, BP should be fully responsible for the complete restoration of the Gulf, and still must publicly disclose all toxic components that spewed into the Gulf during the spill."
BP's guilty plea regarding the criminal claims means the oil company has essentially admitted that it was grossly negligent under the Clean Water Act. This would significantly raise the civil penalties to more than $20 billion. Civil cases by the Center and the United States against BP remain unresolved.
The spill unleashed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing thousands of birds, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals. The long-term effects of the spill are still unclear.
"The BP spill was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and yet, deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has largely returned to business as usual," Fink said. "If we didn't learn a lesson from the nation's largest ever environmental disaster, it's hard to know what it will take."
To make matters worse, drilling is now proposed in the Arctic, where a similar spill would be catastrophic as the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away and clean up would be near impossible.
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