A federal judge has ruled that BP is the main company responsible for the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and subsequent oil spill.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier found BP PLC to be "grossly negligent" and bears more than 60 percent of the blame, according to court papers released today.
Barbier had presided over a non-jury trial in New Orleans last year to determine who is to blame and to what extent they are liable for the 2010 explosion of the rig that killed 11 workers and the millions of barrels of oil that escaped from the damaged well.
“BP’s conduct was reckless,” Barbier wrote in a 153-page decision. “Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent.”
Barbier ruled that BP PLC bears 67 percent of the blame; Transocean Ltd. 30 percent and Halliburton Specialty Services 3 percent.
BP was the owner of the Macondo oil well, while Transocean Ltd., based in Switzerland, was the owner of the drilling rig that exploded, the Deepwater Horizon. Houston-based Halliburton is a cement contractor who was responsible for sealing the well, which failed and led to the release of oil that flowed for almost three months in the Gulf of Mexico.
"BP believes that the finding that it was grossly negligent with respect to the accident and that its activities at the Macondo well amounted to willful misconduct is not supported by the evidence at trial," said a prepared statement from BP. " The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case. BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court."
BP has already paid about $3.8 billion to settle claims from individuals and businesses damaged by the spill. But Barbier's finding of gross negligence means BP could face up to $18 billion in civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
Under the Act, violations can carry a fine up to $1,100 per barrel spilled, but because Barbier has ruled it was the result of gross negligence, the fines could be up to $4,300 per barrel, the maximum penalty for gross negligence or willful misconduct.
Before any penalties can be assigned, a determination must be made as to exactly how many barrels of oil were released during the 87 days of the leak. Federal officials say it was 4.9 million barrels, but BP says it was closer to 3.7 million barrels. Barbier did not address the issue in today's ruling.
In the ruling he wrote that BP "made "profit-driven decisions" during the drilling of the well.
"These instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks," he wrote.
According to the statement from BP, the court will hold additional proceedings in January to decide
"During the penalty proceedings, BP will seek to show that its conduct merits a penalty that is less than the applicable maximum after application of the statutory factors," the statement said.
Earlier this week, Halliburton agreed to a $1.1 billion settlement for its negligence, a signal that Barbier was ready to make a ruling.