A federal judge has approved an agreement for BP PLC to plead guilty for manslaughter and pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The oil giant could end up paying billions more for the environmental destruction that followed the 2010 catastrophe, which caused more than 200 million gallons of crude oil to spew into the Gulf of Mexico causing massive harm to marine animals, birds and sea life while polluting the shorelines of several states.

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The plea deal between BP and the U.S. Justice Department was agreed in November and was finalized Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance approved the settlement by calling for BP to pay $4 billion in penalties. The oil giant agreed to plead guilty for charges involving the deaths of 11 rig workers and for lying to Congress about the size of the spill. The settlement includes a $2.4 billion payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences for the efforts to restore and preserve the ecosystems along the Gulf Coast.

The company still faces the federal government’s civil claims which could lead to BP paying a total of $42 billion for resolving its liability for the Gulf oil spill disaster. The judge cited that, had the case gone to trial, criminal fines against BP could have been capped at only $8.2 million under a federal law.

The $4 billion payment is the largest corporate criminal penalty in U.S. history. The previous record penalty was a $1.2 billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009. The $4 billion fine BP will have to pay is 160 times greater than the one paid by Exxon in 1989, for the largest oil spill ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon.

Before the ruling, the judge heard testimonies from relatives of the 11 workers that died in the well explosion. Some family members had urged the judge to impose stiffer sanctions. “It is petty cash to BP,” said Keith Jones, father of one of the workers that died in the explosion. “Their stock went up after this plea deal was announced.”

“I’ve heard and I truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered,” said Vance after the hearing, stating that she was bound by the terms of the agreement between BP and the Justice Department.

Via The Washington Post

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