BP Pays Billions, Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges Stemming From Gulf Oil Spill

It won’t bring back the lives of the 11 oil workers who died in the fiery explosion that led to the spill.

But on Monday, a federal judge in New Orleans, Louisiana, approved a plea agreement between the U.S. Justice Department and international oil giant BP.

Under the agreement, BP will pay $4 billion in fines – the largest amount ever for a corporation in a US criminal case, according to published reports.

In addition, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges, including manslaughter.

And some of the relatives of the men who died finally got a face-to-face apology from a BP executive.

“Our guilty plea makes clear (that) BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy,” said Luke Keller, a BP vice president, who was in the courtroom on Monday.  “And we apologize – BP apologizes – to all those injured, and especially to the families of the lost loved ones.”

By the time it was over, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico three years ago was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

For nearly three months – from late April until mid-July – more than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf, according to federal officials.

It washed up on beaches from Florida to Texas.

It killed or injured many sea creatures and birds.

It put many people in the seafood industry out of business for months.

And it drove tourists away during the summer vacation season, along much of the Gulf Coast.

It all started on April 20, 2010.

That day, an oil rig leased by BP exploded and blew out, approximately 50 miles south of the Louisiana shoreline.

And that allowed oil to gush into the Gulf’s waters.

According to government investigators, BP and two other corporations involved in the operation tried to cut costs and save time while working on the drilling project.

And that’s what ultimately caused the disaster.

(The two other companies are Transocean and Halliburton.  They also face civil and criminal charges stemming from the oil spill.)

Some of the victims’ loved ones wanted even stiffer punishments for BP.

But according to the Associated Press, the judge who accepted the plea agreement was worried that BP might actually get off much easier if the case went to trial.

So she accepted the plea deal.

Despite Monday’s announcement, BP is far from being out of the woods when it comes to the spill.

According to the New York Times, the company could face as much as $21 billion dollars in additional fines, for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

And BP and some of its employees still face lawsuits and other criminal charges that remain unresolved.

In the meantime, it might take years – even decades – for the Gulf’s ecosystem to recover fully.

If it ever does.