Judge Rules BP’s Maximum Fine For Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Could Reach $13.7B

A U.S. judge ruled Thursday that BP will face a maximum fine of $13.7 billion – nearly $5 billion less than what the government sought – for its part in dumping million of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The New York Times reports that Judge Carl J. Barbier of Federal District Court in New Orleans issued the ruling in a 44-page finding of fact that anticipates the coming third phase of the federal case.

Barbier wrote in his findings that BP actually spilled four million barrels of oil into the gulf, but that because the company attempted collection it should only be held responsible for a discharge of 3.19 million barrels or 134 million gallons of oil.

The ruling represents a substantial loss for the federal government, which estimated nearly 4.19 million barrels were spilled after collection efforts. However, the judge’s finding was still more than the 3.26 million barrels BP officials said was released in total.

Barbier previously found that BP was grossly negligent in causing the spill and could face a maximum penalty of $4,300 for each barrel spilled under the Clean Water Act.

According to the new findings, the company could now face a maximum fine of $13.7 billion.

The Times reports that Barbier’s finding did not elaborate on how he came to the 3.19 million barrel figure. He wrote that the evidence from the government and from the company was “voluminous, dense, highly technical, and conflicting.”

He went on to say that both sides presented evidence to support their cumulative flow estimates and mounted effective attacks on each other’s findings.

“There is no way to know with precision how much oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico,” he wrote before saying that once all arguments were weighed he came to the four million barrel figure.

Officials for BP and the federal government tell the Times that they are currently reviewing the judge’s ruling.

The third phase of the years-long trial, which will focus on the penalties to be assessed, is set to begin next Tuesday.

To date, BP says it has spent $27 billion since the spill, including more than $14 billion on response and cleanup, as well as $13 billion in damage claims.

Judge’s Ruling on Gulf Oil Spill Lowers Ceiling on the Fine BP Is Facing [The New York Times]