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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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.