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

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.