Are the victims of BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster finally going to see justice? BP is about to get hit with one of the largest criminal penalties in US history, $4.5bn – a fitting record, many would say, considering the oil giant was responsible for the largest oil spill in US history.
But does the punishment go far enough? The multi-billion dollar penalty is still tiny compared to the overall impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. As part of the deal, BP will plead guilty to criminal misconduct in exchange for protection from future prosecution in this area of the law.
Fortunately, the courts are keeping open the option of future action under the Clean Water Act. Under that law alone, BP could be responsible for another $21bn in fines. For each barrel of oil spilled, the law allows from $1,100 to $4,300 to be awarded in damages. It's unlikely the powerful corporation will ever be forced to pay the full amount, but the company has set aside $38.1bn to cover potential costs associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill, saying it's unsure what the final cost will be.
BP has been eager to write off the 4.9m barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf, a looming spectre that has hurt its stock price since 2010. Investors in BP are also ready to be done with the whole ordeal, which explains why BP's stock price jumped as much as 2% on the US market after the news of this criminal penalty agreement broke.
Learn more: The Detroit Free Press has a full account of BP's ongoing legal battles, including an analysis of this latest development.
What do you think? Is the criminal settlement too modest for the amount of damage BP's negligence inflicted on the Gulf region, or is this how our criminal justice systems are supposed to work? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Sources: New York Times, Center for American Progress, Guardian, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, AP, MarketWatch, Avaaz, Detroit Free Press