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U.S. Forms Criminal Task Force on Deepwater Horizon Disaster

The U.S. Justice Department has formed the Deepwater Horizon Task Force to consolidate its investigation into possible criminal charges stemming from the drilling rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The Justice Department said in a statement that the task force brings together “separate and simultaneous investigations’’ by its criminal and environmental and natural resources divisions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans.

“After assessing the overlap of the cases and in an effort to avoid duplication of effort, Deputy Attorney General James Cole has decided to establish a single task force with authority to oversee all facets of the investigation,’’ Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, said in the statement.

The three groups have been probing the April 20 “fire, explosion and aftermath’’ of the Deepwater Horizon incident since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on June 1 that the government would seek potential criminal charges and civil penalties.

New Orleans Base

The task force will be led by John Buretta, criminal division senior counsel, and supervised by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the criminal division, according to the statement. Much of the task force’s activities will be based in New Orleans, where the Justice Department established a command post last year, Hornbuckle said.

Eleven rig workers died and more than 4.1 million barrels of crude gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank. The U.S. has sued BP Plc, which owned the well, and Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig.

The two companies, along with other contractors that supplied equipment and services to the well and BP’s partners in the offshore lease, face potentially billions of dollars in civil penalties and economic damage claims by individuals and businesses harmed by the disaster.

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