BP face US criminal charges over gulf oil spill



The US national commission has concluded that the oil spill that took place in the Gulf of Mexico last year was due to ‘management failure’ and may press criminal charges against BP.

Criminal charges can land BP officials behind bars and can greatly increase fines payable.

BP’s shareholders relief seems to be short-lived after it was revealed that the commission’s report could not find evidences of ‘gross negligence’ and BP may face lesser civil liabilities. But a criminal case requires evidences of ‘simple negligence’ and may result in billions of dollars in fines – if proven in court by the commission specially constituted by President Obama. 

A criminal liability will become inevitable if current assessment is proven right, according to David Uhlmann – ex-chief of Environmental Crimes of the Department of Justice and currently with University of Michigan.

Indicating that the criminal case is almost a foregone conclusion, he said: “The only questions regarding criminal charges are when they will be brought, under which statutes, and whether individuals will be charged”.

The commissions finding of ‘systemic’ failure of the oil industry and regulators does not reduce BP’s liability, opined Daniel Jacobs of American University at Washington and a former DoJ official.  

The DoJ announced on Friday that its investigation was on. The Attorney-General Eric Holder had announced last June that his office had launched a criminal investigation to fix responsibility.

Clean Water Act -1972, which has been cited by the DoJ for initiating civil action makes companies liable to pay $1,100 for every barrel spilled or 4,300 if gross negligence is proved. However, as was the case of Hanousek – decided by the US Supreme Court in 2000, a criminal prosecution only requires proof of negligence.

BP refused to comment on the looming threat of criminal prosecution saying the US commission has concluded that “the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies”.

Transocean – another company involved in the operations of the deep water rig and criticized by the US commission tried to put the blame squarely on BP saying “The procedures being conducted in the final hours were crafted and directed by BP engineers and approved in advance by federal regulators. Based on the limited information made available to them, the Transocean crew took appropriate actions to gain control of the well”.

Is it right that the American government seem so keen to punish a British company and pass on the blame?

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