In this Wednesday, April 21, 2010 file photo, oil can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

BP tries once more to get out of paying full Gulf Oil Spill penalties

The oil giant asked a judge to cap penalties at $12.3 billion, a third less than what prosecutors are asking

Lindsay Abrams
November 17, 2014 8:28PM (UTC)

A federal judge has yet to determine the full extent of the penalties BP will be required to pay for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the oil giant is already trying to reduce the total extent of the fines.

BP asked the judge Friday to cap its potential penalties at $12.3 billion, Fuel Fix reports, nearly a third less than what prosecutors are seeking.


Here's the gist of what's happening: the Environmental Protection Agency determined that under the Clean Water Act, BP can be fined $4,300 for each barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf, meaning the worst case scenario, for the company, would leave it responsible for $18 billion in environmental liabilities. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, made its own determination that BP could be fined a maximum of $4,000 per barrel. Both, BP argued in a letter to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, are above the limit set by Congress of $3,000 per barrel; the company urged him to cap fines there.

“It cannot be the law that 20 or more federal agencies all simultaneously possess the power to inflate the civil penalty amounts," BP wrote. "That would be a recipe for legal chaos."

In September, Barbier ruled that the spill resulted from "gross negligence" on the part of BP, leaving it accountable for maximum fines. Its attempt to appeal that ruling was denied last week, Climate Progress notes, leaving the question of just how many barrels spilled during the disaster -- the number by which those fines will be multiplied -- its last chance for reducing its eventual payout. That determination comprises the final stage of BP's civil trial: BP is arguing that it only spilled 3.2 million barrels, while federal attorneys are arguing that it was more like 4.1 million, an amount that would set it up for that $18 billion fine. Barbier's ruling could come down at any time.


BP set aside $43 billion after the spill for clean-up, compensation and fines, has already agreed to pay $4.5 billion in criminal penalties. Of that, it only set aside $3.5 billion for Clean Water Act penalties.

Lindsay Abrams

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Bp Bp Oil Spill Clean Water Act Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill

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