Five questions answered on BP's record fine

Criminal fine over Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A US court has approved the biggest ever criminal fine given in the US to British oil company, BP, for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. We answer five questions on the record breaking fine.

How much has BP been fined?

 BP will pay $4bn (£2.5bn) to the US Department of Justice, $1.26bn of which is a criminal fine. The sum also includes $2.4bn to be paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350m to be paid to the National Academy of Sciences, over a period of five years.

BP will also pay $525m to the Securities and Exchange Commission over a period of three years.

Why has BP been handed this fine?

In November BP agreed to pay this amount and plead guilty to 14 criminal charges relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which was the biggest oil spill in US history. An explosion at the rig located in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in 11 workers loosing their life and an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil escaping into the sea. The disaster occurred in April but the well wasn’t permanently shut until September.   

What did BP officials say in response to the fine at the hearing?

Speaking at the hearing to the court, families of the dead and other victims of the disaster Vice President of BP America, Luke Keller, said:

"We - and by that I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its board of directors, and its many employees - are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day," said Mr Keller.

"Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologise - BP apologises - to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones.

"BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologise to the individuals and communities who were injured."

What other repercussions does BP face in relation to the Deepwater Horizon spill?

Currently, two BP workers have been indicted on manslaughter charges and an ex-manager has been charged with misleading Congress.

BP is also in the process of reaching a settlement with other firms such Transocean, the owner of the rig who was responsible for the safety valve, and Halliburton, who provided cementing services. A civil trial that will determine negligence is due to begin in New Orleans in February.

What has American officials said about the record fine?

As quoted by the BBC the US Attorney General Eric Holder said:

"Today's guilty plea and sentencing represent a significant step forward in the Justice Department's ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of those affected by one of the worst environmental disasters in American history."

He added: "I'm pleased to note that more than half of this landmark resolution - which totals $4bn in penalties and fines, and represents the single largest criminal resolution ever - will help to provide direct support to Gulf Coast residents as communities throughout the region continue to recover and rebuild."

Record fine over Deepwater Horizon disaster. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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