BP Oil Spill Criminal Charges Coming Soon

BP oil spill criminal charges are expected soon. The massive spill ranks as the largest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history, having paralyzed important segments of the Gulf Coast’s economy, including seafood and tourism.

The BP oil spill began on April 20, 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men. Attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the undersea well on July 15. By that time, roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, prosecutors are readying for the first criminal charges against employees at BP PLC, with a focus on some engineers based in Houston, as well as one of their supervisors, said FoxNews. Prosecutors allege that the BP employees involved provided regulators with false information concerning the risks at the Gulf of Mexico well when drilling was underway, FoxNews explained.

The charges, all for felony crimes, might be released as early as 2012 and might involve employees providing bogus information on federal documents, said those familiar with the case, wrote FoxNews. If convicted, those accused could face fines and up to five years in prison.

The Department of Justice might choose not to bring about charges, said those close to the matter, pointing out that prosecutors often used the threat of charges to induce people to cooperate in probes such as this, said FoxNews.

BP will likely face more expansive criminal charges, say legal experts, such as violations of the federal Clean Water Act, according to FoxNews. BP is currently appealing administrative fines estimated at about $36.6—the amount remains open—levied by U.S. regulators over safety violations. BP maintains that the historic accident was the result of a number of events and involving a number of parties, said FoxNews.

Prosecutors have been reviewing critical deep water drilling safety measures, specifically, the difference in minimum pressure exerted in a well’s bore to ensure the well doesn’t blow out and the pressure that would shatter an oil- and gas-containing rock formation, said FoxNews. The smaller the difference, the more difficult it becomes to ensure control of the well.

Although federal regulations do not spell out what margins are safe, companies should identify margins in the applications they submit for drilling permits, said FoxNews, which noted that when a company cannot adhere to the safety margin, it is supposed to cease drilling and fix the issue. One of the questions prosecutors will seek to answer has to due with the information collected when drilling was taking place regarding the safety margin at Deepwater and if that information was appropriately presented in applications that required federal regulator approval.

We recently wrote that U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond (Democrat-New Orleans) was urging the Gulf Coast Claims Facility administrator to extend a new, more generous compensation protocol to more commercial shrimpers and crabbers harmed by the spill. He and members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus asked that the new formula apply to about 4,000 shrimpers and crabbers who received settlements from the Facility.

The number of paid commercial shrimpers and crabbers could be impacted by extending the payments and depends on how many went through the fully-reviewed claims process, versus those who opted for “quick payments” ($5,000 for individuals, $25,000 for businesses) in which extensive documentation was not required for submission to the Facility. Retroactively applying the formula to that group could be difficult since the new payment protocol requires more detailed documentation to ensure claimants are true commercial shrimpers and crabbers.

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