BP to Plead Guilty to Criminal Charges in Gulf Oil Spill, Pay $4.5 Billion

BP to Plead Guilty to Criminal Charges in Gulf Oil Spill, Pay $4.5 Billion

Alisa Opar
Published: 11/15/2012

The blazing remnants of Deepwater Horizon, April 21, 2010. Courtesy US Coast Guard


More than two years after the disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP announced today that it will pay $4.5 billion in fines to the U.S. government and plead guilty to 14 criminal charges, including those related to the deaths of 11 Deepwater Horizon rig workers, lying to Congress about the amount of oil pouring out of the ruptured well, and violating of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


This oiled pelican was netted in Barataria Bay, La., on June 5, 2010. Photo by John Miller/USCG

The catastrophic spill killed untold numbers of birds and affected marine animals like sea turtles and bluefin tuna. The pollutants still persist—and not just in the Gulf: This summer scientists sampling white pelican eggs in Minnesota reported petroleum compounds and Corexit (the chemical dispersant used to break up oil slicks) in the vast majority of the embryos they tested.  


The settlement resolves all criminal claims with the Department of Justice and must be approved by a federal judge. The payments include $4 billion related to the criminal charges and additional $525 million to securities regulators, BP said in a statement. Of the $4 billion, nearly $2.4 billion will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences over a five-year period.


llustration by Peter and Maria Hoe

It’s not over yet. BP is still subject to private civil claims and federal civil claims—including those under the Clean Water Act, which could result in the largest penalty: at $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel spilled, the company could be fined as much as $21 billion. Under the RESTORE Act—which Audubon members voiced their support of with more than 115,000 emails and calls to Congress—80% of CWA fines BP pays will go to restoration work in the Gulf. (READ THIS article for a breakdown.) The civil trail begins in February 2013 in New Orleans.


“This settlement matches the unprecedented offense BP committed,” says David Yarnold, Audubon president and CEO. “But they still have to make amends for the environmental damage their crimes caused. And the Department of Justice drove a fair settlement, but BP needs to compensate the Gulf Coast in the form of civil damages. The rule has to be: You break it, you buy it.”