Inside Story America

A slap on the wrist for BP?

As Gulf of Mexico continues to suffer the effects of the 2010 oil spill, we ask if BP’s $4.5bn settlement is sufficient.

It has been two-and-a-half years since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spilling nearly five billion barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. 

It’s a health crisis down here. It’s out of sight, out of mind, so there are a lot of people that are turning blindside about what is really going on and what’s really happening …. The majority of the guys and women who worked on the spill have the same symptoms or are drawing near to the same symptoms I have and it would probably be related to the spill.

– Jorey Danos, former BP clean-up worker

Now, oil giant BP has reached a settlement with the US government.

The company has agreed to pay $4.5bn – the largest criminal fine in US history – in an attempt to resolve charges related to its oil spill.

In addition, BP will plead guilty to 14 criminal charges. Two employees have also been indicted for manslaughter.

Although this is a record-setting penalty, it is one the company can comfortably afford to pay.

BP made $4.69bn in profits in just the past three months.

BP says it has committed $20bn to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust, but it had only distributed $6.7bn by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, the Gulf of Mexico region is still struggling to recover from the spill.

BP says the settlement limits the company’s exposure to further criminal punishment. But this is not the end of the story; it could still be made to pay billions in restoration costs for water, coastline and marine life damage.

[BP] just in the last three months has earned net profits at a sum greater than this penalty itself. So for a company like this to basically be slapped on the wrist for what amounts to a three-month-in-pay fine for them really, at this point, isn’t going to get the job done.

– Dahr Jamail, investigative journalist

Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, has hinted that the government could still bring additional charges against the company.

BP also faces a number of civil claims over the disaster.

Some clean-up workers who worked for BP in the Gulf of Mexico after the incident also say their health has suffered as a result of the spill.

So, as the region continues to suffer, does BP’s $4.5bn settlement go far enough? 

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas with presenter Kimberly Halkett is joined by guests: Stuart Smith, an attorney who represents commercial fishermen affected by the Deepwater spill; Robin Millican, the policy director for the Institute for Energy Research; and Dahr Jamail, an investigative journalist with Al Jazeera. 

“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. From the outset, we stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and funding restoration efforts in the Gulf. 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.”

Bob Dudley, BP’s CEO, issuing an apology after details of the settlement were released


  • BP’s $4.5bn settlement includes only criminal charges, and not civil claims 
  • The settlement covers $1.3bn in criminal fines and payments to government entities 
  • BP pleaded guilty to felony charges related to the deaths of 11 men 
  • BP pleaded guilty to obstruction charges for lying to Congress 
  • BP has been a major supplier of fuel to the Pentagon 
  • Analysts expect this incident will not stop BP from leasing areas in the Gulf 
  • The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 
  • The Deepwater Horizon rig sank two days after the explosion 
  • The well on the sea floor spewed millions of gallons of crude oil 
  • After more than 85 days, engineers succeeded in capping the well 
  • The oil spill devastated the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico 
  • A federal report found BP, Transocean and Hlliburton responsible for the spill 
  • Federal report: BP is ultimately responsible for the 2010 oil spill 
  • Many residents near the site of oil spill reported health problems 
  • Barack Obama: It is pretty clear that the system had failed, it failed badly