Judge: BP Acted with “Gross Negligence” in Gulf Oil Spill

September 4, 2014
by Jason M. Breslow Digital Editor

A federal judge has ruled that BP acted with “gross negligence” in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, a decision that could expose the energy giant to as much as $18 billion in fines for the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

In a scathing 153-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier assigned BP the majority of the blame for the accident, saying the company made “profit-driven decisions” in dealing with the April 20, 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and allowed millions of barrels of oil to leak into the Gulf for nearly three months. Barbier pinned 30 percent of the blame on Transocean, the owner of the rig, and 3 percent on Halliburton, which provided cement for the well.

The judge assigned BP the remaining 67 percent of the blame for what he described as multiple instances of misconduct that when “taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks.”

The judge’s determination of “gross negligence” in the case of BP, and the lesser finding of “negligence” for Transocean and Halliburton carry important implications. Under the Clean Water Act, the penalty for each barrel of oil spilled is $1,100 if a company is found to have acted with negligence. The penalty increases to $4,300 per barrel with a ruling of gross negligence. In all, BP says that 2.45 million barrels leaked into the gulf. The Department of Justice, meanwhile, says the figure is closer to 4.2 million barrels.

In a statement, BP said it “strongly disagrees with the decision” and announced plans to appeal the ruling. “The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case,” according to the statement.

BP has already paid $4 billion to end a criminal probe into the accident, as well as $28 billion in claims for oil spill costs. Transocean last year agreed to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties for violating the Clean Water Act.

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