Oil giant BP is to pay the biggest fine in US history after agreeing a £2.8bn settlement with authorities for claims relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP will pay the fine, worth $4.5bn, over six years after reaching a deal with the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that has seen it plead guilty to 14 criminal charges relating to the oil rig accident in April 2010, which killed 11 workers.
The rig sank and an estimated 200m gallons (757m litres) of crude oil flowed out of the blown-out Macondo well, fouling extensive areas of the US Gulf Coast and disrupting tourism and commercial fishing.
Bob Dudley, chief executive of BP, said: “We apologise for our role in the accident and, as today’s resolution with the US government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions.”
Under the deal, BP pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect and three misdemeanour counts – including one under the Clean Water Act and one for obstructing Congress.
BP will pay £2.5bn ($4bn) to the DoJ in instalments over five years, and an additional £331m, $525m, to the SEC over a period of three years. The first payment of £110m ($175m), will be made this year to the SEC.
The group has already paid out more than £24bn ($38bn), relating to the oil spill.
Mr Dudley said: “All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region.”
He added: “Since the spill, we have worked hard to rebuild confidence in the company. We take seriously not only our commitment to safety and operational excellence but also our communications with stakeholders, including the public, the government and our investors.”
Today’s settlement removes some of the uncertainty hanging over the stock since the disaster, but it does not cover outstanding civil claims.
BP said it will “continue to vigorously defend itself” against civil claims and allegations of gross negligence.
“We are open to settlements, but only on reasonable terms,” said Mr Dudley.
It is thought that individuals at BP may also face charges over the Deepwater disaster.
BP said that, as part of the settlement, it had agreed to improve safety at its Gulf of Mexico drilling operations and appoint two monitors to review safety and ethics at the company.
In July, a US government safety panel report concluded BP had focused too much on the little details of personal worker safety instead of the big systemic hazards that led to the spill and was not as strict on overall safety when drilling rigs involved other companies that they hired. The company had the lease on the well, but the drilling rig was owned and operated by another firm.
BP has struggled to shake off the reputational blow of the Deepwater explosion, despite paying out billions of dollars so far to cover costs and claims.
It has been selling assets as part of its pledge to raise cash to pay the costs of the Gulf of Mexico disaster. It has recently sold a Texas City refinery, five oil and gas fields in the US Gulf of Mexico and its Bristol-based liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution arm.
BP has announced disposals since the start of 2010 for a total of more than $35bn (£22bn) against its target of $38bn (£24bn).