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Drilling company enters guilty plea in Gulf oil spill

February 14, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • The U.S. Justice Department announced Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, will pay a $1.4-billion settlement for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater… (U.S. Coast Guard / Getty…)

Transocean Deepwater Inc., an oil drilling company, formally pleaded guilty on Thursday to a misdemeanor charge and will pay $400 million in criminal penalties, the latest action in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo in New Orleans accepted the guilty plea to violating the Clean Water Act plea and imposed sentence, the Justice Department announced Thursday. Transocean agreed last month to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge and to pay $1 billion in civil penalties along with the criminal penalty. Another judge will decide whether to accept the civil penalty portion.

The penalties totaling $1.4 billion represent the second-largest recovery in an environmental case, following the $4-billion criminal sentence imposed on BP Exploration and Production Inc. in connection with the same oil spill, the Justice Department said. Most of the $1.4 billion will fund environmental-restoration projects and spill-prevention research and training.

“Transocean’s guilty plea and sentencing are the latest steps in the department’s ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of the victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Atty. Gen. Eric Holder in a prepared statement. “Most of the $400-million criminal recovery -- one of the largest for an environmental crime in U.S. history -- will go toward protecting, restoring and rebuilding the Gulf Coast region.”

Transocean owned the drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, which exploded on April 20, 2010, and sank over BP's Macondo well. Eleven workers were killed.

The explosion also led to the nation’s worst environmental disaster. The well spilled an estimate 4.9 million barrels in the Gulf before it was capped July 15, 2010. The well was declared sealed two months after that.

“The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a senseless tragedy that could have been avoided,” said Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Eleven men died, and the Gulf’s waters, shorelines, communities and economies suffered enormous damage. With today’s guilty plea, BP and Transocean have now both been held criminally accountable for their roles in this disaster.”

Milazzo said she had received no letters objecting to the Transocean settlement.

Last November, BP and the Justice Department agreed to a settlement in which BP will pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties. The company also entered a guilty plea  to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the spill. That agreement was approved in court last month.

Still pending is the civil phase against BP.

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