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Court Accepts BP Plea Resolving All Macondo Criminal Claims

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Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has accepted BP's plea resolving all federal criminal charges against the company stemming from the Deepwater Horizon accident, oil spill and response.

Under the plea agreement that BP reached with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last November, BP will pay $4 billion over a five-year period and will serve five years' probation. The court also ordered certain equitable relief, including additional actions related to BP's risk management processes as well as several initiatives with academia and regulators to develop new technologies related to deepwater drilling safety.

Additionally, the company will appoint a process safety monitor and an ethics monitor, both with a term of four years, and an independent auditor will report annually on BP's compliance with the remedial terms of probation.

"Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges it role in that tragedy, and we apologize – BP apologizes – to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones," said Luke Keller, vice president of BP America, during the court hearing Tuesday in New Orleans.

BP faced charges that included 11 felony counts of manslaughter for each of the workers killed in the incident, one misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act (CWA), one misdemeanor count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and one felony count of obstruction of a congressional investigation. If BP had rejected the agreement, the court would have had to allow the company to withdraw its agreement to plead guilty.

Since the Deepwater Horizon incident in April 2010, BP has made significant changes to enhance safety throughout its global operations, the company said in a statement. These changes include launching an internal investigation immediately after the accident and implementing the investigation's 26 recommendations.

"The company also made key leadership changes, reorganized its upstream business, created a centralized Safety and Operational Risk organization, and adopted voluntary deepwater drilling standards in the Gulf that exceed current regulatory requirements," BP said in a statement.

The misdemeanor count under the CWA triggered a mandatory debarment following the sentencing. Mandatory debarment prevents a company from entering into new contracts or new leases with the U.S. government that would be performed at the facility where the Clean Water Act violation occurred. Existing contracts between BP and the government would not be impacted.

In November 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a temporary suspension of numerous BP entities after BP entered into a plea agreement with DOJ, which prevents BP from entering into new government contracts, grants or other transactions.

Following the court's acceptance of the plea, the suspension may be maintained or converted into a proposed discretionary debarment of these entities. In additional to mandatory debarment of the violating facility itself, that continues the ineligibility of those entities while negotiations with the EPA continue. The process for resolving both mandatory and discretionary debarments is essentially the same as for resolving the temporary suspension.

"While BP's discussions with the EPA have been taking place in parallel to the court proceedings on the criminal plea, the company's work toward reaching an administrative agreement with the EPA is a separate process, and it may take some time to resolve issues relating to such an agreement," BP said in a statement.

BP reported it is the largest investor and deepwater leaseholder in the Gulf of Mexico, with more than 700 gross blocks and seven rigs currently operating in the region. The U.S. government has awarded BP more than 50 federal leases since the Deepwater Horizon incident and since the government moratorium that followed Deepwater Horizon was lifted.

The Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible had been drilling BP's Macondo well. On the evening of April 20, 2010, control of the well was lost. The natural gas that blew with oil and mud from the well at tremendous pressure ignited on board the rig, killing the 11 workers -- all subcontractors assisting in the drilling for BP.

Earlier this month, drilling contractor Transocean and DOJ settled outstanding civil and potential criminal claims related to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident. That settlement concluded DOJ's criminal investigation of Transocean's role in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.



Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com.

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