BP Tries To Pay Less For The Gulf Oil Spill, Again

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

BP is asking a federal judge to cap the amount of Gulf oil spill-related fines it must pay at $12 billion, which is almost a third less than the amount U.S. prosecutors are seeking from the company.

On Friday, BP argued in court papers that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard didn’t have the authority to raise spill-related fines above the $3,000-per-barrel Clean Water Act cap for environmental liabilities. The Coast Guard has determined that BP could pay up to $4,000 per barrel for the spill, and the EPA has set the fines at up to $4,400 per barrel — an amount that, if the judge rules it’s appropriate, would trigger up to $18 billion in fines for BP. Though BP set aside $43 billion for overall oil spill costs, including cleanup and compensation, it set aside only $3.5 billion for Clean Water Act fines.

“It cannot be the law that 20 or more federal agencies all simultaneously possess the power to inflate the civil penalty amounts,” BP wrote in court documents to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. “That would be a recipe for legal chaos.”

BP maintains that its response to the spill, which ended up being a multibillion dollar effort, means that “nothing even approaching the maximum penalty should be awarded once the court hears and weighs all relevant facts.”

BP also tried last month to avoid some of the steeper fines associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 people and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. In September, Judge Barbier found that BP was grossly negligent in its role in the oil spill, and that the company was responsible for 67 percent of the blame for the spill. That “gross negligence” ruling opened BP up to the maximum $18 billion in fines, which could be handed down to the company if the judge finds that, as prosecutors argue, the disaster spilled more than 4 million gallons into the Gulf.

Last month, BP appealed that ruling, saying that it wanted a new trial to determine whether or not it had been grossly negligent — but last week, Judge Barbier refused to re-visit the ruling.

Scientists are still working to determine the impact the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on the Gulf, but some of the findings so far have been grim. Last month, a study discovered a 1,235-square-mile “bathub ring” of oil on the deep ocean’s floor, an oily patch that’s about twice the size of the city of Houston, Texas. That finding came just days after BP argued in Politico that it “didn’t ruin the Gulf.”