BP Oil Disaster

Holding BP Accountable

On April 20, 2010, a horrific explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and set off the worst corporate-made ecological disaster in our nation’s history.

BP, the corporation responsible for the catastrophe, is a repeat corporate criminal whose profit-before-people culture has resulted in myriad environmental and worker safety violations.

In addition to accident- and spill-related expenditures, BP faces criminal and civil fines. These fines must reflect the full scope of laws the corporation has violated, the severity of the disaster and BP’s history of criminal negligence and serve as both a just punishment and deterrence from future negligence. 

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On November 15, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a plea agreement with BP that requires the company to pay $4.5 billion in fines and other payments to settle criminal charges.

In response to BP’s guilty plea, the government temporarily suspended the corporation from bidding on lucrative federal contracts. The federal government lifted the suspension just one week before the U.S. Department of Interior's March 2014 Gulf of Mexico lease auction. Learn more about Public Citizen’s campaign to bar BP from federal contracts.


The United States Department of Justice filed a civil suit against BP for violations under the Clean Water Act in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The first phase of the case - to determine liability and whether the companies acted with gross negligence - commenced on February 25, 2013. The second phase - focused on the how much oil spilled into the gulf - began on 30 September 2013, and the third phase – to determine all other liability that occurred in the process of oil spill cleanup and containment issues – concluded on February 2, 2015. As a result of these proceedings, BP has been found grossly negligent and the presiding judge contends that 4.2 million barrels were spilled over the 87 days the crisis lasted – BP claims 2.5 million barrels were spilled, while the government argued that nearly 5 million barrels were spilled.

A decision on the amount of fines BP will be accountable for is forthcoming. Those fines will be largely determined by the gross negligence ruling, measured against the number of barrels of oil spilled, which means BP could face fines up to $14 billion in damages.  

Cost of Cleanup and Environmental Damages

BP claims to already have spent more than 27 billion on cleanup costs and damages. In addition to the Clean Water Act fines BP faces more penalties under the natural resources damage assessment process and other claims.

Preventing Another Disaster

Investigations into the rig explosion reveal that lax regulations allowed BP and its contractors to prioritize expediency and cost-cutting at the expense of worker safety and environmental protection.

One would think that a bevy of new safety standards would have been issued in the disaster’s wake. But they haven’t been. The industry is pushing into even deeper water covering more area, but regulators haven’t kept pace with the increases in offshore oil production and the advancements in technology used to drill oil more than 30,000 feet below the oceans floor.

The administration is weighing whether to allow Shell’s drilling rigs in Arctic waters – a proposal the administration’s own report says is linked to a 75 percent chance of an oil spill. And the government is proposing to open up a vast stretch of the Atlantic Coast to offshore oil drilling for the first time.

Since the disaster, the government has issued two new drilling regulations (in 2010 on well casings and in 2012 on the cementing of wells), and a third, regarding blowout preventers, was introduced in April 2015.

But even these pending regulations, which the industry may not have to comply with for up to 10 years, will do little to address safety issues in the dangerous new frontier of drilling in ultra-deep and Arctic waters.

Congress has failed to pass one piece of legislation to hold the oil industry accountable, reform the regulatory process, and protect workers and the environment.

View our tally of how many recommendations from the oil spill task force have been implemented (pdf).

Congressional action is needed to implement the oil spill commission recommendations (pdf)

Five years of inaction is unacceptable. It is time to pass the necessary policies and reforms to address the lessons learned from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.