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Legal and Financial Accountability

On December 15, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a civil lawsuit against BP and several co-defendants, seeking to hold them accountable for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The federal lawsuit culminated in a three-phase civil trial in which the United States proved, among other things, that the spill was caused by BP’s gross negligence. Each of the Gulf States – Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – also filed civil claims against BP relating to the spill, including claims for economic losses and natural resource damages.1U.S. Department of Justice. (2015, October 5). U.S. and Five Gulf States Reach Historic Settlement with BP to Resolve Civil Lawsuit Over Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

On October 5, 2015, BP was held accountable for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A global settlement resolved the governments’ civil claims under the Clean Water Act and natural resources damage claims under the Oil Pollution Act, as well as economic damage claims of the five Gulf states and local governments. Taken together this global resolution of civil claims was worth $20.8 billion, and is the largest settlement with a single entity in the U.S. Justice Department’s history.2U.S. Department of Justice. (2015, October 5). U.S. and Five Gulf States Reach Historic Settlement with BP to Resolve Civil Lawsuit Over Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

The following is from the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement of the settlement on October 5, 2015.3U.S. Department of Justice. (2015, October 5). U.S. and Five Gulf States Reach Historic Settlement with BP to Resolve Civil Lawsuit Over Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Under the terms of a consent decree lodged in federal court in New Orleans this morning, BP must pay the following:

  • $5.5 billion federal Clean Water Act penalty, plus interest, 80 percent of which will go to restoration efforts in the Gulf region pursuant to a Deepwater-specific statute, the RESTORE Act. This is the largest civil penalty in the history of environmental law.

  • $8.1 billion in natural resource damages, this includes $1 billion BP already committed to pay for early restoration, for joint use by the federal and state trustees in restoring injured resources. BP will also pay up to an additional $700 million, some of which is in the form of accrued interest, specifically to address any later-discovered natural resource conditions that were unknown at the time of the agreement and to assist in adaptive management needs.  The natural resource damages money will fund Gulf restoration projects that will be selected by the federal and state trustees to meet five different restoration goals and 13 restoration project categories.  These include restoration focusing on supporting habitats such as coastal wetlands, but also provide for specific resource types, such as marine mammals, fish and water column invertebrates, sturgeon, submerged aquatic vegetation, oysters, sea turtles, birds and lost recreational use, among others.

  • $600 million for other claims, including claims for reimbursement of federal and state natural resource damage assessment costs and other unreimbursed federal expenses and to resolve a False Claims Act investigation due to this incident.

Additionally, BP has entered into separate agreements to pay $4.9 billion to the five Gulf states and up to a total of $1 billion to several hundred local governmental bodies to settle claims for economic damages they have suffered as a result of the spill.

“Today’s settlement ensures that BP repays the Government for its costs in responding to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy,” said Admiral Paul Zukunft of the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant. “The historic civil penalty also sends a clear message of accountability for those who pollute the U.S. environment.  In addition, this settlement is a positive step toward restoring our Gulf Coast to health and to ensure that it remains a national centerpiece for economic prosperity, a place of recreation and, most importantly, a pristine home to the generations of Americans who work and reside along its bays, rivers and estuaries.”

The settlements announced were in addition to several earlier criminal and civil settlements of federal government claims concerning the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

  • On February 14, 2013, Transocean Deepwater Inc., the Deepwater Horizon’s owner and operator, pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and was sentenced to pay $400 million in criminal fines and penalties, for its conduct in relation to the disaster. A separate civil settlement imposed a record $1 billion Clean Water Act penalty on Transocean and required the company to take significant measures to improve its performance and prevent recurrence of this conduct.

  • On January 29, 2013, BP Exploration and Production Inc. pleaded guilty to illegal conduct leading to and after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and was sentenced to pay $4 billion in criminal fines, penalties and restitution, including $2.4 billion for natural resource restoration.

  • On February 17, 2012, MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC, which had a 10 percent stake in the well, agreed to settle its liability for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in a settlement with the United States valued at $90 million. Approximately $45 million of the $90 million settlement was dedicated to directly benefit the Gulf in the form of penalties, as well as coastal and habitat protection projects.
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