Transocean to pay $1.4 billion in fines for Macondo blowout, spill

A Transocean Ltd. subsidiary agreed to plead guilty to violating the US Clean Water Act and to pay a total of $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties for its conduct related to the blowout of the deepwater Macondo well and the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible.

The US Department of Justice on Jan. 3 filed criminal information and a proposed partial civil consent decree to resolve the federal government’s civil penalty claims against Transocean. The documents were filed in US District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon, which was on contract to BP PLC, operator of the Macondo well.

“These important agreements, which the company believes to be in the best interest of its shareholders and employees, remove much of the uncertainty associated with the accident,” Transocean said of the plea agreement. “This is a positive step forward, but it is also a time to reflect on the 11 men who lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon.”

Transocean Deepwater signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the government in which Transocean agreed, subject to the court’s approval, to pay $400 million in criminal fines and penalties and to continue cooperating with the government’s criminal investigation.

In addition, Transocean Ocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., Transocean Deepwater Inc., and Triton Asset Leasing GMBH agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve federal Clean Water Act civil penalty claims for the oil spill.

The proposed civil settlement is subject to a public comment period and final court approval.

In agreeing to plead guilty, Transocean Deepwater admitted members of its crew onboard the Deepwater Horizon, acting at the direction of BP representatives, were negligent in failing to investigate clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well, DOJ said.

Transocean’s guilty plea agreement and criminal charge are part of the ongoing criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force into matters related to the April 2010 gulf oil spill.

In November, BP and DOJ reached a settlement regarding some criminal aspects of the deepwater Macondo well blowout but US prosecutors continue pursuing civil claims that BP committed “gross negligence” when nearly 5 million bbl of crude oil escaped from the well (OGJ Online, Nov. 16, 2012).

A civil trial is scheduled before a federal judge in New Orleans in February 2013.

Last month, US District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans gave final approval to BP’s settlement in a class action lawsuit with a number of businesses and individuals.

BP estimates it will pay $7.8 billion to resolve economic and medical claims from more than 100,000 businesses and individuals although the settlement has no cap. BP could wind up paying more or less than that amount (OGJ Online, Mar. 6, 2012).

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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