BP has agreed to pay a $25m (£15m) civil penalty to settle a federal investigation into an oil spill from its pipeline network in Alaska in the spring and summer of 2006.
Under the consent decree with the US government announced on Tuesday, the UK oil group will also spend $60m over the next three years to develop a programme to manage the integrity of its 1,600 miles of pipeline on Alaska’s North Slope. BP has already spent about $200m replacing the lines that leaked.
The two spills in 2006 were among several environmental problems that have beset BP’s North American operations in recent years, including an explosion at its Texas City refinery and last year’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Department of Justice said the penalty, the largest per-barrel to date for an oil spill, had been assessed at the rate applicable under the Clean Water Act, where a spill resulted from gross negligence.
The act sets a penalty of $4,300 per barrel in those circumstances, or about $21.8m based on a total 5,078 barrels spilt. The DoJ said additional penalties made the total up to $25m.
The settlement will be scrutinised as a possible precedent for a resolution of government cases also brought under the Clean Water Act for BP’s Macondo spill in the Gulf of Mexico, although the volume spilt, and hence the potential penalties, were up to 1,000 times greater.
The government filed the civil complaint in April 2009 following a settlement the authorities agreed to in 2007 on criminal charges against the UK oil major.
In November 2007, as part of the broader agreement with the authorities to end any possible criminal proceedings, BP pleaded guilty to one count of criminal negligent discharge of oil to the waters of the US in violation of the Clean Water Act and agreed to a $20m criminal fine and three years’ probation.
BP said in a statement that it did not admit any liability and there was no per barrel penalty assessed in the agreement.
Separately, Anadarko, the US independent oil and gas company that owned 25 per cent of Macondo, suggested on Tuesday it could cut a deal with BP to pay part of the costs of the spill, estimated by BP at $41bn.
Jim Hackett, Anadarko’s chairman and chief executive, said: “We don’t think that we owe anything. But we also realise that our investors would like us to consider some sort of approach that’s perhaps a compromise from that.”
He added: “And while we may be interested in settling . . . it’s indeterminate until we see some groupings get together to try to get this done . . . We feel very strongly about our position but we’re prepared to come to the table under the right circumstances.”
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