BP, Justice Department say Gulf plea deal fair and appropriate

BP and federal prosecutors urged a judge Wednesday to approve a criminal plea deal over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill, amid requests for tougher penalties and poignant family statements from relatives of some of the 11 men who died.

A 55-page joint memo filed in federal court in New Orleans by the Justice Department and the company insisted that the deal is “fair, just, reasonable, and appropriately punitive,” citing its requirements that BP pay a $4 billion criminal penalty, spend five years on probation and submit to monitoring of its activities.

The memo says the core message of the plea deal is that “criminal misconduct will have enormous ramifications — financial, legal, reputational, and other — for any company and any individual who fails to abide by the standards of care when drilling in U.S. waters or on the U.S. outer continental shelf.”

The memo asks U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance to approve BP’s agreement to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges, including manslaughter and obstruction of Congress, and the negotiated settlement it reached with the Justice Department. Vance will make her decision at a hearing Jan. 29.

11 workers died

Eleven rig workers were killed when BP’s Macondo deep-water well blew out off Louisiana and caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig the company was leasing. The resulting oil spill was the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

The memo asserts that the deal is fair even in light of prior misconduct by BP and its affiliates, including:

An explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City in 2005 in which 15 workers were killed, for which BP pleaded guilty to a violation of the Clean Air Act.

A 2006 pipeline spill in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska, resulting in a Clean Water Act conviction.

A 2007 deferred prosecution agreement arising out of commodities price manipulation in 2004. BP paid over $300 million in civil and criminal penalties.

Failure to timely report that one of its contractors dumped hazardous waste into oil wells on the North Slope of Alaska, for which BP was convicted in 2000 under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. BP was fined $500,000, put on five years of probation and ordered to implement a nationwide environmental management program.

The BP-Justice Department memo was filed as numerous relatives of the men who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig and people affected by the oil spill submitted victim impact statements.

Several of them objected to the plea deal, saying it doesn’t punish BP enough. They say that while BP has issued public apologies, it hasn’t apologized to them personally, and while BP has agreed to pay a record criminal fine, the amount is relatively small when compared to the company’s profits and revenue.

Cry for justice

Vance will weigh those statements, the BP-government memo and a sealed recommendation from probation officials. If the judge rejects or modifies the deal, BP could withdraw its plea and go to trial.

The memo said the company “has demonstrated its acceptance of responsibility through actions and deeds, as well as words.”

But Courtney Kemp-Robertson, who was married to rig worker Roy Wyatt Kemp when he was killed on the rig, wrote in a victim impact statement that making BP go to trial over the criminal charges may be the only way to get justice for those who died.

The revelations in a trial, she wrote, would help ensure corrective measures “so that no family has to experience the horrific pain the 11 families continue to endure.”