Story Summary

Oil in the Gulf

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard

In April 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and fouled the Louisiana coastline and other parts of the Gulf with millions of barrels of oil. It was one of the worst oil spills in history.

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Transocean Deepwater Inc. pleaded guilty today to a violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for its illegal conduct leading to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and was sentenced to pay $400 million in criminal fines and penalties, Attorney General Holder announced today.

In total, the amount of fines and other criminal penalties imposed on Transocean are the second-largest environmental crime recovery in U.S. history – following the historic $4 billion criminal sentence imposed on BP Exploration and Production Inc. in connection with the same disaster.

“Transocean’s guilty plea and sentencing are the latest steps in the department’s ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of the victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Attorney General Holder. “Most of the $400 million criminal recovery – one of the largest for an environmental crime in U.S. history – will go toward protecting, restoring and rebuilding the Gulf Coast region.”

“The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a senseless tragedy that could have been avoided,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “Eleven men died, and the Gulf’s waters, shorelines, communities and economies suffered enormous damage.  With today’s guilty plea, BP and Transocean have now both been held criminally accountable for their roles in this disaster.”

Transocean’s guilty plea was accepted, and the sentence was imposed, by U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana.  During the guilty plea and sentencing proceeding, Judge Milazzo found, among other things, that the sentence appropriately reflects Transocean’s role in the offense conduct, and that the criminal payments directed to the National Academy of Sciences and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are appropriately designed to help remedy the harm to the Gulf of Mexico caused by Transocean’s actions.  The judge also noted that the fines and five year probationary period provide just punishment and adequate deterrence.

Transocean pleaded guilty to an information, previously filed in federal court in New Orleans, charging the company with violating the CWA.  During the guilty plea proceeding today, Transocean admitted that members of its crew onboard the Deepwater Horizon, acting at the direction of BP’s well site leaders, known as “company men,” were negligent in failing to investigate fully clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well.

The criminal resolution is structured to directly benefit the Gulf region.  Under the order entered by the court pursuant to the plea agreement, $150 million of the $400 million criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving – in consultation with appropriate state and other resource managers – the marine and coastal environments, ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico and bordering states harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  This portion of the criminal recovery will also be directed to significant barrier island restoration and/or river diversion off the coast of Louisiana to further benefit and improve coastal wetlands affected by the spill.  An additional $150 million will be used to fund improved oil spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf through research, development, education and training.

Transocean was also sentenced, according to the plea agreement, to five years of probation – the maximum term of probation permitted by law.

A separate proposed civil consent decree, which resolves the United States’ civil CWA penalty claims, imposes a record $1 billion civil Clean Water Act penalty, and requires significant measures to improve performance and prevent recurrence, is pending before U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The charges and allegations pending against individuals in related cases are merely accusations, and those individuals are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The guilty plea and sentencing announced today are part of the ongoing criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force into matters related to the April 2010 Gulf oil spill.  The Deepwater Horizon Task Force, based in New Orleans, is supervised by Assistant Attorney General Breuer and led by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John D. Buretta, who serves as the director of the task force.  The task force includes prosecutors from the Criminal Division and the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, as well as other U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; and investigating agents from:  the FBI; Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigative Division; Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General; Department of Interior, Office of Inspector General; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

This case was prosecuted by Deepwater Horizon Task Force Director John D. Buretta, Deputy Directors Derek A. Cohen and Avi Gesser, and task force prosecutors Richard R. Pickens II, Scott M. Cullen, Colin Black and Rohan Virginkar.

(CNN) — A federal judge in New Orleans Tuesday approved a $4 billion plea agreement for criminal fines and penalties against oil giant BP for the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.

U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Vance imposed the terms that the Justice Department and BP had agreed to last November, which include the oil company pleading guilty to 14 criminal counts — among them, felony manslaughter charges — and the payment of a record $4 billion in criminal penalties over five years.

Vance’s ruling came after hearing from eight witnesses Tuesday, including family members of those killed, cleanup workers, and members of the Southeast Asian Fisherfolks Association.

The plea agreement is with the oil company and not with indicted individual employees, so it doesn’t result in anyone going to jail.

Two high-ranking supervisors on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig have been indicted on 23 counts, including manslaughter, for allegedly ignoring warning signs of a possible blowout on the rig. It caught fire April 20, 2010, resulting in the deaths of 11 workers. Those separate criminal cases remain in litigation.

Luke Keller, a vice president of BP America, Inc., apologized again in court Tuesday for his company’s role in the accident.

“We — and by that I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its board of directors, and its many employees — are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day,” said Keller. “Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologize — BP apologizes — to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones. BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologize to the individuals and communities who were injured.”

The London-based oil giant also agreed to pay $525 million over three years to settle claims with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company concealed information from investors.

The oil firm has not agreed with the Justice Department on a separate civil settlement involving federal and state claims of damages to natural resources. At stake are potential fines for violations of the Clean Water Act, which could range from $5 billion to almost $20 billion if BP is found guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct. That case is being heard by another federal court in New Orleans.

According to Justice Department officials, $1.3 billion of the $4 billion fine will go to the government, nearly $2.4 billion will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million will go to the National Academy of Sciences.

CNN’s Vivian Kuo contributed to this story


Transocean in Court Today

Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, was in federal magistrate court Wednesday to answer to criminal charges.

The company has already agreed to pay $1.4 billion in fines, but lawyers say that they will plead not guilty to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act.

Those same lawyers tell WGNO News that this is a procedural move, and on February 14, 2013, the same parties will change their plea to guilty.

Lawyers say Transocean will eventually admit in court that the company was negligent in failing to notice clear indications that the Macondo Well was not secure.

Of course, a much greater share of the blame for the blowout rests with BP, which will be in court three weeks from now to answer even more serious criminal charges and presumably pay an even bigger fine than the one imposed upon Tranocean.

Most of the money collected from fines – and it’s expected it could go as high as $20 billion – will be split amongst the five Gulf coast states most affected by the disaster. Louisiana officials say the money will go toward helping to restore the state’s vanishing coastline.

transocean-logo-400×225Transocean will pay $1.4 billion in fines and penalties in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.

The Justice Department made the announcement Thursday.

The offshore drilling firm owned and provided a crew for the Deepwater Horizon rig, where an explosion killed 11 men.

It also triggered the worst maritime oil spill in U.S. history.

Transocean was contracted by BP, which leased the rig and directed staff on board.

BP agreed in November to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay four-point-five billion in penalties.

BP will pay a record U.S. fine to settle criminal claims arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a Department of Justice official said Thursday.

Details of the BP settlement will be revealed later Thursday when Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to join federal and local officials in New Orleans for an announcement, DOJ officials told CNN.

Prior to this settlement, the largest U.S. criminal fine was a $1.3 billion payment by drugmaker Pfizer in 2009, part of a $2.3 billion settlement in a case involving the misbranding of Bextra, an anti-inflammatory arthritis drug.

The London-based oil company said earlier Thursday that negotiations with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission were “advanced.” The company had no further comment.

Any settlement is subject to federal judicial review, and will absolve the company of civil claims. In addition, BP still faces a potential fine from the U.S. federal government tied to environmental damages in the Gulf.

The fine comes on top of $20 billion that the company has agreed to pay into a trust fund to meet damages claims from the spill. It said it expects to pay a final $860 million into that fund this quarter.

BP reported a $17.2 billion loss in the quarter when the explosion took place. But it has been profitable since then, booking total profits of $43 billion over the course of the subsequent nine quarters.

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard

In April 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and fouled the Louisiana coastline and other parts of the Gulf with millions of barrels of oil. It was one of the worst oil spills in history.

Family members of the victims who spoke to CNN Thursday said they were pleased that BP was being forced to pay for the blast, but said it doesn’t make up for their loss.

“It doesn’t bring my boy back, but it does show everybody that they’re guilty and everybody knows it,” said Billy Anderson, whose son Jason was one of the rig workers killed.

Arlene Weise lost her 24-year-old son Adam on the rig that day.

“I knew all along that BP was the devil in that accident,” she said. “Now they’re getting their due.”

But Weise said Thursday’s announcement offered only a limited sense of justice.

“It doesn’t matter how much money anyone pays,” she said. “It doesn’t nearly amount to what we’ve lost.”

The well was capped three months after the explosion, but in that time, the spill caused extensive environmental damage to the Gulf. Embattled CEO Tony Hayward was forced to resign, and BP shares plummeted.

BP has reached a $7.8 billion settlement with lawyers representing private-sector victims. But in September, the Justice Department accused BP of gross negligence and a “culture of corporate recklessness” in a federal court filing, which expanded the company’s liability.

No criminal charges have yet been filed, and a major civil trial set to take place in New Orleans has been delayed until February 2013.

Transocean, the owner and operator of the rig, also has unresolved liability issues. The DOJ, in its September filing, said the company is also guilty of gross negligence.

“BP did not act alone, by any means, and its gross negligence and willful misconduct are inextricably joined with the acts and omissions of Transocean,” the government said in the filing.

–CNNMoney’s Chris Isidore and Mark Thompson, and CNN’s David Ariosto contributed reporting to this article.

captureThe British Petroleum (BP) Corporation has announced a Vessel of Opportunity Program for commercial fishermen who are interested in assisting in the clean up efforts resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig.

Any fishermen, with a vessel, who wants to assist in the BP program can sign up at the Jean Lafitte Town Hall, 2654 Jean Lafitte Boulevard in Lafitte or the Grand Isle Town Hall, 180 Ludwig in Grand Isle. Vessels owners will need to provide information about their vessel: name of owner and contact information, length of vessel, its draft, horsepower and type. Fishermen and vessels that meet the criteria will be trained by coordinators of the BP program.

The response to this event is a federal responsibility and is being managed by the Coast Guard and the BP response team.

Jefferson Parish Emergency Management is in contact with the Coast Guard and State Officials and is receiving updates regularly. Jefferson Parish officials are closely monitoring the conditions surrounding the oil spill and are working with the state and federal government to insure that everything possible will be done to protect the coast line and environmentally sensitive areas in the Barataria Basin.

captureAs the oil slick reaches the mouth of the Mississippi, the people in St. Bernard Parish are bracing themselves for the impact.

Tony Goutierrez is a crab fisherman who stands to lose everything once the oil reaches St. Bernard Parish. He says, “Pretty aggravated right now, fed up with this bull.”

And fed up because he feels more needs to be done to prevent this catastrophe. The parish has plans to set up booms to try and catch the oil but Goutierrez isn’t too optimistic. “A 30 knot wind, how is that gonna help? Let me see them out there in 15 ft. seas trying to put an oil mop out, I’d like to see it” Goutierrez says.

Many of the people out here are feeling pretty helpless. Fisherman Burl Gruetzner says “Right now we haven’t been told what we can do.”

George Barasich is already taking matters into his own hands…he’s about to file a class action lawsuit againg BP. Barasich explains, “As the shrimp industry dies, you watch coastal parishes fold so now you’re gonna watch whichever coastal parish that gets hit, will fold quicker. So we’re gonna need some help to stay alive.”

Barasich and the thousands of other fisherman expected to join the lawsuit are seeking money for lost profits and property damages. But as lawsuits typically take years, Goutierrez says his main concern is how he and his men will pay their bills now. “Everybody here is frustrated, trust me, everybody here will be out of work” Goutierrez says.

captureSo far, seven sperm whales have been spotted in oil infested water, but the Coast Guard says the whales don’t appear to be in distress. ABC26 News’ Laila Morcos reports that same oil will wash into the marshes along the Louisiana coastline putting even more animals in danger.

Michele Kelley, the Animal Training Coordinator for the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, is bracing for a few busy months.

“Each day was constantly trying to get geared up for the possible, inevitable thing of having stranded animals,” Kelley says.

Kelley says there’s no way to know how many oil slicked or stranded animals teams will rescue and rehab.

“My main concern is obviously the sea turtles and then the dolphins and whales that are in the Gulf of Mexico right now that quite possibly be swimming in it.”

Another concern: pelicans and sea birds. If the oil reaches marshes, the impact will be seen even more: “Your alligators, your reptiles. Also, be possibly concerned about river otters.”

Kelley and other rescuers across the Gulf Coast are ready to take animals beginning Friday morning.

While showing ABC26 News a typical turtle cleaning station, Kelley is reminded of a television commercial: “Not to make light of a tragic situation, but if you remember that dawn dishwashing commercial? ‘Dawn fights grease and takes it away.’ well in this case, that is the truth.”

Kelley says everyone involved is doing what they can to contain the leak — but the outcome doesn’t look good — possibly not until the fall.

“Then, the residual will be done. We’ll have the animals, we’ll have them rehabbed, everything taken care of.”

Louisiana Oil Rig ExplosionThere is no doubt that marine life will be impacted by the oil spill. So far seven sperm whales have been spotted in oil infested water. However, the Coast Guard says they don’t appear to be in distress. Once that oil starts washing ashore, wildlife will be in danger.

Michele Kelley is bracing for a few busy months. “Each day was constantly trying to get geared up for the possible, inevitable thing of having stranded animals,” she says.

Michele is the State Animal Training Coordinator and works at the Aquarium of the Americas. She says she’s still not sure how many oil slicked or stranded animals teams will rescue and rehab. “So my main concern is obviously the sea turtles and then the dolphins and whales that are in the Gulf of Mexico right now that quite possibly be swimming in it,” she says.

Another concern is over pelicans and sea birds. If the oil reaches marshes, the impact will be seen even more. “Your alligators, your reptiles. Also, be could be possibly concerned about river otters.”

Michele and other rescue teams across the Gulf Coast are ready to take animals within the next 12 hours. This is a typical turtle cleaning station. And they use Dawn dishwashing soap to clean the animals.

Michele says everyone involved is doing what they can to contain the leak — but the outcome doesn’t look good. That won’t change possibly until the fall. “Then, the residual will be done. We’ll have the animals. We’ll have them rehabbed and everything taken care of.”

If you see any oiled wildlife… You need to call 1-866-557-1401 to report it.