BP wins massive cut to its Gulf oil spill fines

There had been fears the oil giant could be forced to pay as much as $18bn

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The Independent Online

Shares in BP shot up yesterday after a US judge capped the maximum fine it could face for the Gulf of Mexico disaster at $13.7bn (£9bn).

There had been fears the oil giant could be forced to pay as much as $18bn. US District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that the company dumped 3.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the Macondo blowout in 2010.

The US government had estimated 4.2 million barrels had been released contaminating coastlines and fishing grounds. BP had claimed that the spill amounted to some 2.45 million barrels.  BP shares closed up 8.79p at 401.39p.

Even with the latest ruling the potential fine would be the largest imposed in the US for pollution. The company, which yesterday axed 300 jobs in the North Sea, told the stock market: “BP believes that considering all the statutory penalty factors together weighs in favour of a penalty at the lower end of the statutory range.”

The next stage of the Clean Water Act trial, which will decide the level of fine, is due to start on 20 January.

In his ruling, the judge said that BP’s response to the Macondo disaster had not been grossly negligent.

However, he held firm to his earlier decision that it had been grossly negligent leading up to the explosion, in which 11 men aboard the drilling rig were killed. BP is appealing against that decision.

Analysts and lawyers were in no doubt that the ruling represented an excellent deal for the British oil giant.

“Today’s ruling is a major victory for BP and reduces by billions their potential liability,” said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Some said the fine would eventually come out at even less than $13.7bn.

Fadel Gheit, a stockbrokers analyst at Oppenheimer & Co, predicted that the eventual figure would be no more than $9.2bn, and could be even as low as $3.5bn. This was based on the fact that the judge had previously said BP should shoulder 67 per cent of the blame and that it should be recognised for its attempts to clean up the mess and compensate victims.