British oil supermajor BP will plead guilty to criminal charges and pay a $4.5 billion settlement to the United States for negligence that led to America's worst oil spill in history, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe off the Gulf coast.
The settlement, announced Thursday, comes a week after BP settled with the state of Alaska for damages from two oil spills that occurred under its management of the Prudhoe Bay fields on Alaska's north coast. Under that settlement, BP's Alaska subsidiary must pay $255 million.
The Macondo offshore blowout and subsequent explosion four years later, in the Gulf of Mexico, dwarfed those earlier Alaska spills and claimed the lives of 11 crewmembers. Two former BP employees have been charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths, while a third was charged with "lying to federal investigators."
“All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region,” Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said in a statement Thursday.
“From the outset, we stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and funding restoration efforts in the Gulf. We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today’s resolution with the US. government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions.”
The total bill for the oil spill will be the most expensive in history. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound ultimately cost Exxon $1 billion in damages, which would be equal to about $1.8 billion today.
The largest portion of the BP payment, $4 billion, will go mainly to government environmental agencies and will be paid over five years, according to the New York Times.
BP will admit criminal wrongdoing over 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect of ships' officers relating to the 11 deaths. In addition, BP will plead guilty to one misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act; one misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and one felony count of obstruction of Congress.
The settlement announced Thursday is separate from a March agreement in which BP said it will pay out $7.8 billion in damages to affected parties, reported NBC News.