BP staff may face U.S. criminal charges after spill

U.S. prosecutors are preparing what would be the first criminal charges against BP Plc (BP/) staff after the worst U.S. oil spill last year, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors are focusing on whether some BP employees, including several Houston-based engineers and at least one supervisor, provided false information to regulators about the risks linked to the drilling of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, the Journal said. Department of Justice officials said in September that they looking to whether BP failed to properly report changes in key pressure measurement during the drilling process.

Scott Dean, a spokesman for BP in Chicago, and David Nicholas, a London-based spokesman for the company, declined to comment on the report.

The U.S. government and BP are set to start a trial on Feb. 27 that will determine liability for the April 2010 well blast that killed 11 workers and triggered the leak of millions of gallons of crude. BP has agreed to settlements with four of six companies involved and may make a similar arrangement with the U.S. Justice Department, avoiding litigation as President Barack Obama seeks re-election next year, RBC Capital Markets said.

“This increases the onus on all parties to reach a settlement,” said Peter Hutton, an analyst at RBC in London. “That would take the heat off the individuals involved. Obama would like to put this fully to bed before the election.”

New Orleans Trial

The well blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig led to hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP. The company spent $17.7 billion last year on its response to the spill and set up a $20 billion compensation fund for victims. Most of the lawsuits have been consolidated in New Orleans under U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who will decide who was at fault before ruling on penalties in proceedings that may take years.

Any criminal charges against individuals may be brought early next year, with a conviction carrying a penalty of five years in prison, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Justice Department may still decide not to bring charges against BP’s employees, the Journal said, citing the unidentified people.

BP has yet to settle with rig-owner Transocean Ltd. or cement contractor Halliburton Co. (HAL) Cameron International Corp., the maker of the failed blowout preventer device, this week lost an appeal to derail the non-jury trial under Barbier.

19 Comments

  1. Zilch

    What a bonanza for the lawyers.

    #1
  2. Indianpaintbrush

    I think that I can actually hear the heartbeats of greenpeace members and socialists flutter as they read this headline. BTW This isn’t news. They have been talking about bringing charges since it happened.

    #2
  3. disheveled1

    Sounds like someone needs campaign money.

    #3
  4. XLR8R

    Yeah, Zilch, They are the ONLY ones who will win in this deal!

    #4
  5. tboyinhouston

    One cannot lie to government investigators so you conspiracy freaks get over yourselves.

    #5
  6. codewarrior77006

    Good,

    It’s about time! The public needs to know that CEOs cannot hide behind their corporate veil while committing crimes that would put you or I in jail for life.

    #6
  7. MJ

    Interesting…Does our country really want to try a case that implies that an industrial accident should have associated criminal charges? Is that a precedent that should be set? Let’s quit focusing on “Big Oil” for a second and take a macro shot of national industry and industrial output,(what we have not shipped overseas) and the impact to our economy as a whole.

    #7
  8. CAD1936

    Gross negligence, lying to investigators, & willful violations of the law should not be protected by the corporate shield of freedom from liability. Responsibility for such activity SHOULD be punishable under criminal laws.

    Does anyone believe that only socialists and greenpeace associates are the only ones that feel that way? These violations tread violently on other people’s rights to live and work free of fear of injury, both personal and professional. I know of no valid reason why the laws should pass over such conduct.

    Apparently such action in Brazilian waters would result in the banning of a company involved in such violations as well as the possibility of criminal penalties. At least they understand that is about the only way you can get such a company’s attention.

    #8
  9. ntangle

    cw6 – The article didn’t mention corporate officers. It mentioned employees, Houston-based engineers and a supervisor. From prior FF articles and public hearings, I can guess which ones they’re referring to. Just thankful I’m not in their shoes right now.

    #9
  10. Yes this will encourage US energy independence (not)…

    #10
  11. Obama claims he is a pro-jobs president but look at what they do…go after business at every turn.

    #11
  12. Dennis fish

    for exampl. CEO refuses money to replace a faulty valve, valve breaks, rig explodes. No criminal liability fo CEO? MJ, yes we do want that precedent. How can one be held accountable without accountability? You, MJ, are a corporate stooge and an idiot.

    #12
  13. CAD1936

    and we cannot have progress toward energy independence and a better job market with people obeying the laws and careful with the safety of fellow employees?

    #13
  14. tex roberts

    reckless drilling and corner cutting. i’ve seen it plenty of times in my 13 years offshore and it still gets to me. it is not worth saving $250,000 if you might end up having to pay billions. i often see operations of $10,000 a day shut down for days because somebody bought three $20.00 parts instead of five $30.00 parts. asinine at best, deadly in some cases. profit margins should never take precedent over safety of employees and/or environment.

    #14
  15. Wayne Togo

    Thrill

    “My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

    Thriller
    Thrillest

    #15
  16. NowYouKnow

    Who thought that it was a good idea to pump all that water into the decks and compartments of the rig for two days until it sank under the weight of all that water?

    #16
  17. Mike H.

    “Does our country really want to try a case that implies that an industrial accident should have associated criminal charges?”

    Most people don’t want the US to be like China with industrial accidents from industry negligence. If BP & others ignored equipment issues on the DH, then they need to take responsibility. BP has a pattern of cutting corners on operations that affect safety. Look at the CSB video:

    http://www.csb.gov/investigations/detail.aspx?SID=20&Type=2&pg=1&F_All=y

    BP also failed to do simple pigging on a major pipeline on the North Slope, eventually causing an internal corrosion leak in 2006. This is a very basic, needed operation for crude oil pipelines.

    #17
  18. Markie Mark

    Well what a surprise – Obama wants to put this to bed before the election. Of couse when you have a bunch of thugs in the White House, is this truly surprising?

    #18
  19. Indianpaintbrush

    code warrior…. first of all, hate to burst your bubble , but it isn’t the CEO’s who will be prosecuted. It will be engineers, project managers and/or middle management. Secondly, CAD, I never stated that ONLY their hearts would be aflutter, just that I could hear theirs.
    Finally, Dennis fish…. the CEO has very little to do with the day to day decisions….
    Yes, we want companies to act responsibly, but the person above who mentioned do we really want to do this(meaning press criminal charges) in every industry in the U.S. has it right.

    #19