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Gulf oil spill could result in criminal charges for BP employees

The Wall Street Journal reports that federal prosecutors are targeting several Houston-based engineers and at least one supervisor employed by British oil giant BP connected to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

By Staff writer / December 29, 2011

In this June, 2011 photo, birds are shown at a colonial waterbird nesting site along the Houston Ship Channel, in Baytown, Texas. The island is part of a project to restore lost wetlands and islands off the Texas coast, part of a plan to rebuild the Gulf Coast's fragile ecosystem following the 2010 oil spill.

David J. Phillip/AP

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Federal criminal charges may be pending for key individuals involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

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The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that federal prosecutors are targeting several Houston-based engineers and at least one supervisor employed by BP, the British oil giant. BP is one of three parties blamed for the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010 resulting in 11 deaths and the release of 4.9 million barrels of oil (206 million gallons) into the Gulf.

The charges relate to false information given to federal regulators prior to the oil spill involving risks linked to certain drilling procedures. The Department of Justice may bring the charges next year. Convictions could result in fines and up to five years in prison.

BP has long claimed that Halliburton, the BP contractor responsible for the cement job designed to pressurize the well during the drilling process, and Transocean, the rig operator, share responsibility for the accident. The three companies published internal reports detailing the causes of the accident. Other reports were written by a presidential commission as well as independent groups of environmentalists and university scientists studying the spill.

IN PICTURES: Destructive oil spills

The most comprehensive report, made public in September, was a joint effort of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the US Coast Guard.

In that report, blame is mostly directed at BP, which is criticized for violating federal regulations for offshore drilling and making a series of decisions that elevated risk. The report details some 35 steps BP made that led to the disaster, suggesting that the blowout of the Macondo well was the result of late-hour company restructuring and concerns about cost overruns.

The suggestion that criminal charges are afoot precedes a civil trial scheduled to start Feb. 27 in New Orleans.

The Department of Justice is suing BP, and eight other parties, in an effort to seek damages under the Clean Water Act and for eight of the defendants, including BP, to admit liability without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all damage costs.

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