Nobody wants the notoriety of being dealt one of the biggest criminal penalties in US history. But at least it takes BP a step closer to drawing a line under the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A US judge has allowed the oil giant to plead guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of the 11 rig workers on Deepwater Horizon back in 2010, and pay £2.5bn in fines.
The fine is indeed a record sum in US corporate manslaughter history, but even so BP's travails are not quite over yet. This particular ruling does not address the federal government’s civil claims against the company. It is thought that BP could be forced to pay several more billions of pounds for the environmental damage caused by the oil spill.
And to be fair to the government, the spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history. Over the course of 87 days a deep-sea well gushed millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, obliterating thousands of miles of coastline and causing monumental damage to marine life and ecosystems. Yep, a pretty ugly mess.
At the most recent hearing, a vice president of BP America, Luke Keller, said: ‘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.’ He added: ‘BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologise to the individuals and communities who were injured.’
Over the last few years, the firm has been selling properties and oilfields worth billions to raise the cash to settle all the claims that have been brought against it. This includes a $20bn Gulf of Mexico compensation fund to help repair the communities and businesses which were destroyed or damaged by the oil, to which the final payment is due to be made this year.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the oil industry, Dutch judges have rejected a case brought by Nigerian farmers against Royal Dutch Shell, which claimed that the firm poisoned fishponds and farmland with leaking pipelines. The Hague Civil Court rejected all cases against the company. The only element it lost out on was being made to compensate a farmer for breaching its duty of care, because it was too easy for criminals to open one of its oil pipes. There is now a three-month appeal period, but we can guess where the case is headed…
Still, it looks like the ‘gusher’ of cash that has been pouring out of BP’s coffers for the last three years, might actually soon be capped. If the federal civil action comes through, it’s just another few billion pounds to go…