BP Faces Record Fine, Manslaughter Charges Expected Against Two Employees, in Connection with Gulf Oil Spill

The oil rig explosion that set off the BP oil disaster killed 11 people and caused an estimated 206 million gallons of oil to spew into the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Justice Department was expected to announce a record-high fine against the giant oil company BP on Thursday, plus manslaughter charges against two BP employees.

The fine and charges stem from the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history – the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eleven workers were killed in April of that year, when an oil rig operated by BP exploded and sank, approximately 50 miles south of the Louisiana coast.

The explosion caused a huge oil spill that lasted for nearly three months.

By the time the leaking oil well on the floor of the Gulf was capped, an estimated 206 million gallons of oil had spewed into the water.

Louisiana suffered the most.

But from Florida to Texas, oily tar balls washed up on beaches.

That caused tourists to stay away from that Gulf Coast, which contributed to huge economic losses for the Gulf Coast states.

(The other two are Mississippi and Alabama.)

In addition, fisherman, crabbers, oystermen and other people whose income depends on a clean Gulf were put out of work for months by the spill.

And many animals, birds and sea creatures got sick or died.

Sources told Reuters news service that the Justice Department planned to fine BP more than $1.3 billion – the previous record-high fine in a U.S. criminal case.

Reuters also reported that BP would plead guilty to criminal misconduct, for failing to ensure that the oil rig — and the well that ruptured beneath it — operated safely.

And the Associated Press (AP) reported that the oil company would also plead guilty to obstruction of justice, for lying to Congress about how much oil was pouring into the Gulf as the spill was happening.

Initial reports did not say which BP employees would face manslaughter charges.

More details were expected to come out at a news conference later Thursday in New Orleans, Louisiana, according to New Orleans TV station WWL.

(Manslaughter basically means that you were responsible for someone’s death, even though you didn’t mean to kill that person.)

Keep in mind that just because a person is charged with a crime doesn’t mean he or she is guilty.

In the U.S. legal system, a person – or a corporation — is considered innocent until proven guilty.

But the criminal charges against BP and some of its employees are very serious nonetheless.

“People died,” a Justice Department lawyer wrote in a court filing, according to the AP.  “Many suffered injuries to their livelihood.  And the Gulf’s complex ecosystem was harmed as a result of BP and Transocean’s bad acts or omissions.”

(Transocean is another company allegedly involved in the failed oil rig operation.)

The disaster cost Tony Hayward — BP’s chief executive at the time – his job.

Not only was Hayward blamed for the oil spill.

He also repeatedly put his foot in his mouth, as the saying goes.

At one point during the spill, he told reporters he wanted “his life back” – not exactly the most sensitive thing to say after the 11 deaths in the oil rig explosion.

And in an interview with a British TV network in May 2010, he said he thought the oil spill would have only a “very, very modest” impact on the environment.

That turned out to be anything but the truth.