BP to Pay $18.7 Billion to Settle Oil-Spill Case

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – BP will pay a record $18.7 billion, including $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act fines to settle claims by the United States and five states over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
     Environmental advocates joined the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday in rejoicing over news of the settlement, which will immediately benefit wildlife and natural resources along the Gulf Coast.
     BP had faced a maximum of $13.7 billion in fines under the Clean Water Act, but the $5.5 billion it has agreed to pay will nevertheless top the previous record fine of $1 billion. The fine will be payable over 15 years.
     The settlement was reached between BP, the United States government and the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and includes the settlement claims of more than 400 local government entities.
     In addition to the Clean Water Act fine, BP will pay $7.1 billion to the U.S. and five Gulf states over 15 years for natural resource damages in addition to the $1 billion it has already committed in early restoration efforts.
     BP will additionally set aside $232 million to cover any additional natural resource damages that are still unknown at the time of the agreement.
     Under the terms of the settlement, $4.9 billion will be paid over 18 years to settle economic and other claims, and up to $1 billion will be paid to resolve claims made by more than 400 local government entities.
     Noting that this settlement is the largest ever reached in U.S. history, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she was pleased “that after productive discussions with BP over the previous several weeks, we have reached an agreement in principal that would justly and comprehensively address outstanding federal and state claims.”
     BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said released his own statement on Thursday, calling the agreement “a path to closure for BP and the Gulf.”
     “It resolves the company’s largest remaining legal exposures, provides clarity on costs and creates certainty of payments for all parties involved,” he said.
     It has been just over five years since the April 20, 2010, explosion and sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 and unleashing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
     The settlement announced Thursday resolves part of the litigation arising from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, though not all as some criminal and shareholder lawsuits still remain.
     “Today’s settlement is a victory for wildlife in the Gulf,” Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation said in a news release.
     “This brings to a close the long legal ordeal that had left restoration efforts in limbo and it gives us certainty moving forward,” O’Mara said.
     “Five years later, dolphins are still dying, sea turtles are failing to nest and millions of gallons of oil remain on the floor of the Gulf,” O’Mara continued.
     “While the company could have faced penalties as high as $13.7 billion under the Clean Water Act alone, the $5.5 billion settlement will allow significant ecological restoration to occur in the Gulf. The communities and wildlife of the Gulf have suffered greatly in the wake of the largest oil spill in U.S. history-and now, with this settlement in hand, it is essential the Gulf states and federal government ensure that every dollar in penalties and damages be used to restore this incomparable ecological treasure and economic powerhouse,” O’Mara said.
     Attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. , of Reserve, La., who was not part of the oil spill steering committee in the massive oil spill litigation, but who represented 3,000 clients who suffer medical problems from the spill, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the settlement is desperately needed across Louisiana.
     Becnel said that while it’s “really hard to quantify a true amount” of money that BP should compensate Louisiana for damages to the wetlands, the fisheries, the wildlife and habitat and the community from the oil spill, this settlement is good for Louisiana.
     “Louisiana doesn’t have time to wait,” Becnel said, “We’ve already waited too long to do something with coastal erosion, to get the fisheries back.” He said it’s a great thing that the settlement agreement has been reached now, and not at some still unknown time in the future.
     “Thank God BP took responsibility for this,” Becnel said. “Immediately they took responsibility.”
     “It’s good for Louisiana. Louisiana certainly was the most impacted by this spill and suffered the greatest damages – it’s been seen in the poor health of dolphins, in oysters, shrimp, in our wetlands,” Becnel said.
     He said he does not believe the settlement will contribute very much to attorneys’ fees associated with the multidistrict litigation that will now come to an end.
     Becnel opined that attorneys shouldn’t receive windfalls from this type of disaster; that it’s the environment and community that should reap the benefit.
     “The only thing I’m glad about is [Louisiana Governor and presidential candidate Bobby] Jindal won’t have anything to do with this,” Becnel added, noting that Jindal’s governance ends this year, and that the governor scarcely reacted to the oil spill.
     Attorneys from the steering committee in the multidistrict litigation replied to an emailed request for a statement that it would not be issuing one.

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