On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans ruled that BP's "gross negligence" and "reckless" and "willful misconduct" were the main culprits behind the massive 2010 oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. The ruling opened BP up to federal fines of as much as $4,300 a barrel spilled — or up to $18 billion in new civil penalties — under the Clean Water Act.
BP, which has set aside $3.5 billion for Clean Water Act fines, said it "strongly disagrees" with the ruling and will appeal it, because "proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case." BP has already spent more than $28 billion on cleaning up the spill and damage claim payouts, and expects to pay about $9.2 billion more on private settlements. BP shares fell 6 percent on Thursday after the ruling.
The hefty fine demonstrates the risks of drilling for oil in deep water, Arctic seas, and other technologically challenging spots. If the up to $50 billion BP will pay out from this spill isn't "a wakeup call to do it right, to slow down, to make sure all your i's are dotted and t's are crossed in terms of safety — not just for BP but also for the industry — I don't know what is," Louisiana State University environmental scientist Edward Overton told Bloomberg News.