Update 4:22pm EST: The two highest-ranking Deepwater Horizon BP supervisors at the time of the disaster have now been charged with 23 criminal counts including manslaughter.
“The company said it would plead guilty to 11 felony counts related to the workers’ deaths, a felony related to obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors.” (Reuters)
Update 4:20pm EST: Reuters reports: “U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the deal a ‘critical step forward’ but was adamant that it did not end the government’s criminal investigation of the spill.”
Update 4:13pm EST: CBS News reports: “Two men who worked for BP during the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster have been charged with manslaughter and a third with lying to federal investigators, according to indictments made public Thursday, hours after BP announced it was paying $4.5 billion in a settlement with the U.S. government over the disaster.”
Update 4:04pm EST: BP has agreed to pay $4.5 billion in charges, including $1.26 billion in criminal fines.
BP will admit criminal liability over the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, according to Reuters.
The plea is understood to be part of an agreement the company is expected to strike with the US Department of Justice and the Security and Exchanges Commission in return for immunity from any future prosecutions connected to the disaster.
The news comes after the Department of Justice launched a civil case against BP in August citing “gross negligence and wilful misconduct.” The case is due to be heard in New Orleans in February 2013 but may not go ahead if an out of court settlement is reached. However, other federal civil cases would still be possible.
At its heart the case centres upon whether errors were made in calculations of the pressure of the well Deepwater Horizon was drilling into. The Department of Justice believes it has a clear-cut case, saying “that such a simple … test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence.”
If the civil case was to succeed, it would leave BP open to damages of nearly $85 billion, dwarfing the $7.8 billion it has already set aside to resolve cases brought by individuals and businesses affected by the spill. In comparison, the settlement with the Department of Justice is expected to be the largest in US history, which current stands at $1.3 billion.
CBS News, which has reportedly received anonymous confirmation from a source close to the case, also noted that “two BP employees face manslaughter charges over the death of 11 people in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the massive spill.”
The anonymous source “also confirmed that BP will plead guilty to obstruction for lying to Congress for its statements on the size of the leak.”
BP Oil Spill Background
The case dates back to 2010, when an unexpected surge of methane gas from an exploratory drill caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to explode in the Gulf of Mexico. It took BP three weeks to cap the well, during which time an estimated 53,000 barrels of crude oil leaked into the ocean every day, making it the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.
Although the well was officially declared capped in late 2010, there are persistent reports that the seabed in the area continues to leak oil, and earlier this year the NOAA said that the ecological consequences of the spill were “far more profound than previously thought,” with “a disturbing number” of fish bearing mutations and reports of mass deaths amongst dolphins.
Chris is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.