BP appears in court to enter criminal plea over 2010 spill


Thirteen of the 14 criminal charges against BP are related to the accident itself and are based on negligent misinterpretation of the negative pressure test conducted on board the Deepwater Horizon, BP said in a Nov. 15 press release. The final count involves BP’s communications on flow rate estimates to a congressional subcommittee, the Justice Department said in a court filing.

BP officials told Congress in May 2010 that the company’s “best guess” estimate of the spill flow rate was about 5,000 barrels a day, even though some of its own scientists had suggested much more oil was flowing into the Gulf, according to the Justice Department.

The U.S. also charged two BP well-site managers with involuntary manslaughter and a former executive with obstruction and false statements. Lawyers for the three men said their clients were innocent. The men are scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow in federal court in New Orleans.

Evidence Destruction

Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, had previously been charged with destroying evidence in the probe of the spill. Mix, who worked on BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, has pleaded not guilty.

The blowout and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010 killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the gulf. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against BP; Transocean Ltd., the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig; and Houston-based Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services.

The Justice Department sued BP in December 2010, alleging the company failed to prevent or contain the spill and seeking fines for each barrel of oil discharged.

The department’s lawsuit hasn’t been settled and BP remains at risk for as much as $17.6 billion in potential fines from alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and demands by the U.S. and Gulf states for enough money to restore the region’s coastline and waters to their condition before the spill.

The government estimated that more than 4 million barrels of oil were spilled. If BP is found to be grossly negligent, a legal standard the government would have to prove showing the accident resulted from a conscious BP act or omission, it could be fined as much as much as $4,300 per barrel.

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