BP faces heavy fines in Gulf oil spill settlement

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BP could face as much as $17.6 billion in civil pollution fines and possibly billions of dollars more in criminal penalties as its settlement with businesses and individuals harmed by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill shifts the focus to government claims.

BP last week announced it would pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and injuries, according to media reports. The settlement, to be paid from a $20 billion trust for spill victims set up in 2010, doesn’t resolve federal and state government environmental damage claims. BP has set aside $37 billion to cover spill costs.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans had been set to hear evidence in a trial starting today to decide fault for the spill. BP was sued along with Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd., owner and operator of the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig, and Houston-based Halliburton Co., provider of cementing services at the Macondo oil well, about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Barbier delayed the trial after a settlement was announced of consolidated cases against London-based BP that are overseen by a group of lawyers known as the Plaintiffs Steering Committee. He said in a March 2 order that he’ll schedule a status conference to discuss the consequences of the accord and set a new trial date.

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