BP's Gulf spill fine: Is the tide turning on corporate crime?

The fines build upon money that BP says it has already paid toward cleanup in the Gulf. Will they pay these new fees too?

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, right, with Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor, from left, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, to announce resolution of federal and state claims against BP for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the restoration of natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico. The Justice Department and five states have finalized a settlement of more than $20 billion arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice reached a settlement of more than $20.8 billion with BP over the company's handling of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.   

This settlement may mark the beginning of the end of an especially dark chapter in environmental history. In 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed eleven crew members and dumped approximately 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. News of the spill, and of BP's various attempts to contain it, tainted the company's public image and depressed its stock performance.

The fines are composed of several separate funds to be paid out over time, each with its own purpose. They include $5.5 billion – which Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch says is “the largest civil penalty in the history of environmental law” – to go toward addressing civil claims made under the Clean Water Act; $7.1 billion for natural resources damages claims made under the Oil Pollution Act; $4.9 billion for repairing economic damages in the five Gulf states affected by the spill; and an additional $1 billion to go to local governments.     

“At trial, our litigation team proved that the spill was the result of BP’s gross negligence… BP is receiving the punishment it deserves, while also providing critical compensation for the injuries it caused to the environment and the economy of the Gulf region,” Attorney General Lynch said this morning at a press conference. “I am proud that the Department of Justice has helped lead the way from tragedy to opportunity.”

This settlement builds upon money that BP says it has already directed towards restoration efforts for the Gulf. BP officials say they have already spent approximately $28 billion in cleanup efforts for the Gulf, $14 billion of which was directly invested in cleaning up the shoreline.

The real question here is whether BP will actually pay the agreed-upon settlements. ExxonMobil still has not paid all of the settlement money it agreed to pay towards the Alaskan government and its people following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Independent research has also determined that there is still a significant amount of oil awash on Alaskan shores from that accident, counter to earlier projections.

BP has stated that in some cases, the severity of the Deepwater Horizon crisis was mitigated because the oil spilled was a “light” crude, rather than the heavier oil that was spilled during the Exxon Valdez spill. But, research indicates that there are still petrocarbons embedded in the sea floor as a result of the spill, whose decomposition rate may be slowed because of the colder temperatures and lack of oxygen on the ocean floor.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.