US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] has agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and to plead guilty [plea agreement, PDF] to felony misconduct for its role in the devastation caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Holder emphasized [statement] that the settlement includes a roughly $1.25 billion criminal fine, and also announced that two BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon during the spill have been charged with 23 criminal counts, including manslaughter as a result of the 11 workers killed aboard the rig during the April 2010 explosion. As part of the agreement, BP has agreed [press release] to plead guilty to 11 of the felonies related to the workers' deaths, a charge of obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors. The deal includes payment of about $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences and roughly $500 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission [official websites]. Holder went on to say that the criminal investigations of BP by the Department of Justice [official website] are still ongoing and that the current criminal settlement, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, does not include the damages sought by the government under the Clean Water Act [text, PDF], the Migratory Bird Act [text] and other federal laws.
Last week the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] heard arguments [JURIST report] regarding approval of a class-action settlement agreement between BP and various individuals and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident. There, attorneys on both sides urged Judge Carl Barbier to approve the settlement agreement, under which BP is expected to pay approximately $7.8 billion. It has been argued that the settlement is a step in the right direction [JURIST op-ed] for compensating those affected by the oil spill. In May Barbier signed a case management order [JURIST report] outlining the structure for the upcoming trial of Gulf oil spill claims, scheduled for January 14, 2013. The judge divided the trial into two phases. In phase one, or the "incident" phase, the court will address issues arising out of the various parties' conduct leading to the incident and appropriation of their negligence. Barbier gave preliminary approval [JURIST report] to the proposed settlement agreement earlier that month. In April BP and a group of plaintiffs' attorneys sought Barbier's preliminary approval on the settlement, which they had reached [JURIST reports] in March.