BP’s agreement to pay $4.5 billion for its role in a massive oil spill two years ago will bring some help to victims, many still struggling to recover in a sluggish economy
The British oil giant will also plead guilty to 14 criminal charges stemming from the deaths of 11 workers and for lying to Congress. Credit the tenacity of the Obama administration for the historic payout and rare acknowledgment of accountability.
In 2010, BP workers failed to properly seal an exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico, causing it to explode, sink a drill rig and unleash a months-long gusher of oil that coated beaches along the Gulf Coast.
The company then withheld documents and misled the U.S. House of Representatives about how quickly the oil was flowing.
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Individuals are rarely held accountable for corporate misdeeds, but the Department of Justice filed manslaughter charges against two BP officers aboard the drilling rig and charged an executive with obstruction of Congress and making false statements.
BP’s settlement does not end the company’s legal troubles. Pending federal fines under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act as well as private civil claims and state claims for economic losses could soar to $21 billion.
The settlement is good for both sides.
For BP, it is one less public-relations battle as the company works to regain its reputation and business standing. For the Gulf Coast workers who lost their livelihoods, some of them now facing oil-spill-related illnesses, the settlement offers needed help now, rather than the uncertain outcome of a courtroom battle.
Other parts of the BP settlement offer environmental assistance on the long road to recovery, including $2.3 billion for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.
Government monitoring of BP’s safety practices and ethics for the next four years provides a public watchdog over a company in need of one.