[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Thursday reduced the maximum fine that BP [corporate website] will face under the Clean Water Act [text, PDF] after he ruled [opinion, pdf] that the size of the offshore oil spill [JURIST backgrounder] was smaller than what the US government claimed. In the opinion, Federal Judge Carl Barbier [official profile] said that 3.19 million barrels were spilled into the Gulf, a number below the government’s estimate of 4.09 million barrels. As a result, BP will now face a maximum of $13.7 billion in fines, billions of dollars less than the anticipated amount of $17.6 billion. Barbier issued a ruling [opinion, pdf] of gross negligence in September, which sets a statutory penalty cap of $4,300 for each barrel spilled. Barbier has authority to issue lower penalties. BP sought a simple negligence ruling, which caps the penalty at $1,100 per barrel. Barbier’s ruling on Thursday said that BP’s response to the disaster was not grossly negligent, but it was grossly negligent leading up to the blowout at the Macondo well. The judge will assign penalties after the third and final phase of the non-jury trial in New Orleans. BP announced [press release] they expect a penalty at the lower end of the statutory range when considering all the factors to the statutory penalty weighed together.
The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or BP oil spill, had far-reaching and catastrophic environmental effects [JURIST backgrounder]. According to a 2013 study [PDF] published by the National Academy of Sciences, it is difficult to know the full extent of environmental damage caused by the spill because of the movement of ocean currents and the difficulties of monitoring the great variety of natural resources found in the Gulf of Mexico. The US Supreme Court in December declined [JURIST report] to review a settlement with BP resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The case arises from a decision [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last March. BP claims that under the terms of the settlement they are forced to pay businesses and individuals who could not prove that their injuries were caused by the oil spill in 2010.