A federal judge recently determined that BP will face a maximum fine of $13.7 billion for its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill – a penalty several billion dollars less than environmental activists were hoping for. The judge stated that the oil spill was not as extensive as United States officials claimed.

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The government’s original estimate claimed that the BP spill dumped 4.09 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Based on that figure, the penalties could have been as much as $17.6 billion. Back in September, federal magistrate Carl Barbier charged BP with “gross negligence” in the tragedy under the Clean Water Act. That decision meant that a maximum fine of $4,300 per barrel could be assessed, although the judge could use his authority to lower the fine.

This week, the magistrate decided that the worst offshore spill in U.S. history in 2010 was not as large as the government claimed, but instead only involved 3.19 million barrels of spilled oil. About 810,000 barrels were collected during the clean-up, which has already cost BP more than $42 billion.

Related: Study shows BP oil spill could have been prevented by regulation

This decision marks the end of the second phase of the trial. The third and final phase starts next week in New Orleans, in which penalties will be finalized. BP lawyers are expected to argue for a smaller fine per barrel. After this case concludes, BP may still face other fines from a Natural Resources Damage Assessment, or they could be ordered to do more environmental restoration in the Gulf.

Via Reuters

Images via Matanya and Thierry Ehrmann.