Thursday, November 15, 2012

BP to pay $4.5 billion, plead guilty to criminal charges in Gulf of Mexico oil spill


Lee Celano / Reuters, file
A hard hat from an oil worker lies in oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana in this June 8, 2010 photo.

By Ian Johnston, NBC News
Updated at 11:41 a.m. ET: BP will pay approximately $4.5 billion and plead guilty to criminal charges as part of a settlement with the U.S. government over the deadly Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the London-based oil giant announced Thursday.

BP said it would plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect relating to the death of 11 workers, one misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act, one misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and one felony count of obstruction of Congress.

More details of the settlement over the largest accidental marine oil spill in history were expected to be revealed later Thursday at a press conference in New Orleans by Attorney General Eric Holder and other federal and local officials.
Earlier, in a statement posted on its website, London-based BP said the settlement talks included claims made against the company by the Securities & Exchange Commission.

The statement said the "proposed resolutions" were "not expected to cover federal civil claims" and others.

The talks are separate from a March settlement in which BP agreed to pay affected parties $7.8 billion for damages

The Deepwater Horizon rig, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, sank after the April 20, 2010, explosion. The well on the sea floor spewed an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil, soiling sensitive tidal estuaries and beaches, killing wildlife and shutting vast areas of the Gulf to commercial fishing

The spill exposed lax government oversight and led to a temporary ban on deepwater drilling while officials and the oil industry studied the risks, worked to make it safer and developed better disaster plans.

Gerald Herbert / AP
The April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig triggered a summer of oil spills, cleanup, lost jobs and plenty of frustration. View select images from the disaster.
Launch slideshow:
 The BP spill revisited

The cost of BP's spill far surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Exxon ultimately settled with the U.S. government for $1 billion, which would be about $1.8 billion today.

The government and plaintiffs' attorneys also sued Transocean Ltd., the rig's owner, and cement contractor Halliburton, but a string of pretrial rulings by a federal judge undermined BP's legal strategy to pin blame on them.

At the time of the explosion, the Deepwater Horizon was drilling into BP's Macondo well. The rig sank two days later.

After several attempts failed, engineers finally managed to cap the well on July 15, 2010, halting the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico after more than 85 days.

PhotoBlog: Cat Island pelicans see habitat shrinking 2 years after Gulf spill

Read coverage of the spill from 2010

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Archival video: The people of the Gulf Coast have survived hurricanes, but 128 days after the BP oil spill disaster, they're struggling to see a way forward. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

Cat Island pelicans see their habitat shrinking away two years after Gulf oil spill

Gerald Herbert / AP
Nesting pelicans fly on Cat Island in Barataria Bay in Plaquemines Parish, La., on April 11, 2012. The island has eroded greatly since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill two years ago.

11:16am, EDT
Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert says he will never forget what he saw on his first visit to Cat Island, just over a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of April 20, 2010:

Noisy brown pelicans were flying around and swimming in the water, which was carrying waves of newly arrived thick crude. The oil was collecting on the shoreline. Some birds were too coated to fly, looking distressed.

On the lush island rookery, filled with thick mangrove, off-white pelican eggs were smeared with oil from birds sitting on top of them in nests.

I took photographs, documenting the first pelican rookeries affected by the spill. There was a pit in my stomach; I thought this colony may well be doomed.

Gerald Herbert / AP
A pelican sits on the last remaining mangrove remnant on what used to be a small island, as it erodes into the bay next to Cat Island on April 11, 2012.

Herbert decided he had to return to the islands off the coast of Louisiana. A year ago, PhotoBlog published a series of his photographs that showed a dramatically changed ecosystem where land was eroding and vegetation was dead or dying.

Video: Prosecutors preparing criminal charges in BP spill

The photographer made a third visit to Cat Island last week, with the disaster now two years distant but its consequences plain to see. "The deterioration was shocking," he writes:

The island had eroded and was much smaller. What was once mangrove so thick only a bird could enter was now black stumps sticking out of the sand. There were fewer pelicans, and they were nesting on bare earth, exposed to the next storm surge.

As I looked out across the water, I got a sick feeling. I thought this may all be gone soon, only a GPS coordinate in the Gulf and a story about what natural beauty was once here.

Gerald Herbert / AP
Pelicans are seen flying over mangrove isolated in the water near the heavily eroded shoreline of Cat Island on April 11, 2012.

Gerald Herbert / AP
The last remnant of what was a small island near Cat Island is seen as it is eroded by the surf on April 11, 2012.

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Marine biologist and University of South Florida Prof. Steve Murawksi talk about the two year anniversary of the BP oil spill.

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