By Michael Kunzelman/The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Oil giant BP has agreed to pay a criminal penalty in the billions of dollars for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a person familiar with the deal said Thursday.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record about the deal, also said two BP PLC 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 person said BP will plead guilty to obstruction for lying to Congress about how much oil was pouring out of the ruptured well.
The Deepwater Horizon rig, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, sank after the April 2010 explosion. The well on the sea floor spewed an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil, soiling sensitive tidal estuaries and beaches, killing wildlife and shutting vast areas of the Gulf to commercial fishing.
The spill exposed lax government oversight and led to a temporary ban on deepwater drilling while officials and the oil industry studied the risks, worked to make it safer and developed better disaster plans.
BP’s environmentally-friendly image was tarnished, and independent gas station owners who fly the BP flag claimed they lost business from customers who were upset over the spill. BP chief executive Tony Hayward stepped down after the company’s repeated gaffes, including his statement at the height of the crisis: “I’d like my life back.”
The cost of BP’s spill far surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Exxon ultimately settled with the U.S. government for $1 billion, which would be about $1.8 billion today.
The government and plaintiffs’ attorneys also sued Transocean Ltd., the rig’s owner, and cement contractor Halliburton, but a string of pretrial rulings by a federal judge undermined BP’s legal strategy to pin blame on them.