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BP Faces Billion-Dollar Fines as Oil Spill Penalty Phase Begins

PHOTO: Oil began washing ashore on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach following the BP spill in 2010. Photo credit: Drew Buchanan/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: Oil began washing ashore on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach following the BP spill in 2010. Photo credit: Drew Buchanan/Wikimedia Commons.
January 20, 2015

PENSACOLA, Fla. - The third and final phase in the civil trial over the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico begins Tuesday, and will determine the penalties which British Petroleum (BP) will ultimately receive for violations of the Clean Water Act.

The company was already found "grossly negligent" and largely responsible for the environmental disaster. Now, the trial turns to how much the British oil giant will be fined.

David Muth, director of the Gulf Restoration Program for the National Wildlife Federation, says the range is from about $3 billion to a maximum of just under $14 billion.

"Because the judge has ruled gross negligence, one would expect something moving toward the higher end," he says. "You spill it, you clean it up. You pay for the cleanup, you pay for the response."

The amount will be based on evidence presented during this phase on BP's response to the spill, along with the judge's determination more than three million barrels of oil ended up in the Gulf.

Eighty-percent of the fines levied will be sent to Florida and the other Gulf Coast states for recovery efforts under the RESTORE Act. Muth says among the most notable local impacts are the economic effects of the spill on eight panhandle counties.

"Those counties are highly tourist-oriented," he says. "Some of the most beautiful, white sand beaches in the world. They took a direct hit, and that tourism is based upon their natural resources."

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster happened on April 20, 2010, when 11 people lost their lives in the explosion and fire aboard the offshore oil platform.

Also found to be liable, although to a much lesser extent, were BP contractors Transocean, which owned the mobile drilling rig, and Halliburton, which was responsible for the rig's cementing operations.

The RESTORE Act acronym stands for Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies.

Phil Latzman, Public News Service - FL