A U.S. judge has decided that British Petroleum Plc was “grossly negligent” and “reckless” in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill four years ago. This ruling could add nearly $18 billion in fines to more than $42 billion in charges BP Plc took for the worst offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history. It could now be fined $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled, rather than $1,100 per barrel in the case of simple negligence.
The company said it would appeal against the ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, Louisiana, who held a trial without a jury last year for determining who was responsible for the April 20, 2010 rig explosion and spill. “BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court.”
Eleven workers were killed and oil was spewed for nearly three months onto the shorelines of several states.
Judge Barbier ruled that BP was mostly at fault and that two other companies in the case, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton were not much to be blamed. The judge is yet to assign damages from the spill under the federal Clean Water Act. “The Court concludes that the discharge of oil ‘was the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct’ by BP,” Barbier said in his written ruling. “BP’s conduct was reckless.”
The ruling “dramatically increases” BP’s liability for civil penalties under the act, David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section.
BP shares closed down nearly 6% last night as the markets reacted with surprise to the ruling.
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