Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Could Lead to Criminal Charges

BP and others responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could eventually face criminal charges over the disaster. Today, President Barack Obama promised that if any laws were broken, those responsible would pay.

To that end, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited New Orleans today, and met with attorneys generals from affected states, as well as federal prosecutors. According to The Washington Post, Holder has said Justice Department lawyers are examining whether there was any “malfeasance” related to the leaking oil well, and investigators, who have already been on the coast for a month, have sent letters to BP instructing the company to preserve internal records related to the disaster.

According to Reuters, the Justice Department could levy a number of criminal charges if it finds misconduct on the part of BP, including violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. There could also be charges for failing to abide by drilling regulations.

In addition to BP, TransOcean Ltd., which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig, Halliburton Co, whose contractors performed cement work on the well, and Cameron International Corp, which provided the blowout preventer that should have stopped the uncontrolled flow of oil and gas that led to the disaster, could eventually be named in criminal complaints.

In 1991 after the Alaska oil spill, Exxon paid just over $1 billion in penalties and damages to settle criminal and civil charges related to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. At the time, the $125 million in criminal penalties Exxon paid was the largest of its kind in history and the charges included violations of the Clean Water Act, the Refuse Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to Reuters, any penalties incurred by BP and other parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would certainly exceed those assessed to Exxon.

BP has been the subject of criminal probes in the past. In recent years, the company agreed to pay a $50 million criminal penalty following a 2005 fire at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers.

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