A federal US judge ruled that BP is accountable for just over 3 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster – 24% less than federal prosecutors had previously claimed. The decision could potentially mean that the oil and gas giant faces a maximum penalty of $13.7 billion under the U.S. Clean Water Act, instead of the $18 billion sought by the Justice Department.
Just days before BP is set to appear in his court, federal magistrate Carl Barbier ruled in New Orleans that 3.19 million barrels were discharged into the Gulf after the rig explosion at BP’s Macondo well, an environmental disaster that killed 11 workers. Previously, BP had argued it should be liable for 2.45 million barrels, while federal prosecutors claimed a fine should be founded on 4.2 million barrels.
The ruling surprised analysts who were following the complicated case as its third phase trial begins on Tuesday, January 20th.
Judge Barbier’s statement came more than a year after a trial during which he found that BP acted with “gross negligence” in the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig blast. In response, BP is appealing, and has argued that the penalties should be lower than the government is asking for, but has not offered a specific number.
A spokesman for the company said, “BP believes that considering all the statutory penalty factors together weighs in favor of a penalty at the lower end of the statutory range.”
The first two phases of the trial, which investigated the degree of negligence and the size of the spill, have concluded, and on Tuesday, lawyers will argue over the exact fine per barrel during the non-jury trial. The fine will then be assigned afterward.
“Both sides presented evidence to support their cumulative flow estimates, and each mounted effective attacks on the other’s calculations,” Judge Barbier wrote. “There is no way to know with precision how much oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico.”
Judge Barbier’s decision comes on the heels of BP announcing hundreds of UK job losses amid the plunging price of oil, Lonely Planet reports.