BP, U.S. Urge Judge to Accept Plea Over Victims’ Protests

A BP Plc unit and federal prosecutors asked a judge to approve a $4 billion guilty plea for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blast, over objections from victims that the deal is insufficient punishment for the deaths and injuries it caused.

BP Exploration & Production Inc., the Houston-based exploration unit of BP, agreed in November to plead guilty to 14 counts, including 11 for felony seaman’s manslaughter, and pay $4 billion to resolve all criminal charges related to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The sum includes a record $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years, extensive monitoring of the company’s drilling operations, and funds targeted for wildlife restoration and drilling safety initiatives.

“The plea agreement imposes severe corporate punishment, appropriately reflects the criminal history of other companies with the BP group of companies, the serious nature of the instant offenses, and the impact of the Macondo blowout and spill on the Gulf Coast and our nation as a whole; and deters BP and other deep-water drillers from permitting such a catastrophe to occur in the future,” Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said yesterday in a filing at federal court in New Orleans.

Dozen Letters

Injured rig workers and relatives of the men killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010, sent more than a dozen letters urging U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance to reject BP’s plea deal.

While a few of these letters seek additional compensation from BP, the majority stress the victims’ desire for a “sincere” apology from company leaders and punishment that matches the severity of the families’ losses.

“We have been compensated, but no amount of money will bring my father back,” Ashley Manuel, daughter of deceased rig worker Keith Blair Manuel, wrote in her letter. “If I had my wish, it would be that the three representatives from BP who sat in my grandparents’ living room and lied to my face about the accident would sit in jail and feel the same pain and loss I feel.”

‘Disclaim Responsibility’

BP has “gone so far as to effectively disclaim responsibility by repeatedly telling me to seek my relief from other parties,” Transocean Ltd. executive Buddy Trahan, the most seriously injured survivor of the rig explosion, said in his letter to Vance. Saying he has yet to receive “any restitution for my injuries from BP or any other responsible party,” Trahan urged the judge to reject a deal he claims “will do nothing to stop BP from continuing to evade responsibility to the victims of its crimes.”

BP apologized in yesterday’s filing.

“BP deeply regrets the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon blowout and explosion as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf Coast region,” BP attorneys Mark Filip and F. Joseph Warin said in the filing. “From the outset, BP has stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and helping to fund restoration efforts in the Gulf.”

Vance will weigh BP’s plea at a hearing in her New Orleans court on Jan. 29. She can only accept or reject the deal and can’t alter its terms.

Cleanup Efforts

Breuer asked Vance to consider BP’s punishment in light of the additional $24.2 billion the company has spent so far on cleanup efforts and other spill-related civil litigation and settlements.

BP reached an agreement last year with lawyers representing thousands of victims claiming economic and medical injuries from the spill. BP has agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most claims by these coastal property owners, businesses and individuals who were harmed by more than 4.1 billion barrels of crude that gushed from the company’s blown-out well.

BP also faces additional billions of dollars in civil pollution fines and costs to restore natural resources damaged by the spill. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has scheduled a non-jury trial for Feb. 25 in his New Orleans court, where he will apportion civil liability between BP and the other companies involved in the disaster.

The case is In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

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