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BP: Near a Deal With U.S. on Oil Spill

Published: November 15, 2012 | 8:47 am
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BP BP.LN -0.65% PLC said Thursday it is in advanced discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice on a deal that would resolve all criminal charges and claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with 2010′s deadly Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.

“No final agreements have yet been reached and any resolutions, if agreed, would be subject to federal court approvals in the United States,” the company said in a statement. The proposed resolutions aren’t expected to cover federal civil claims, including damages under the Clean Water Act, federal and state natural resources damages claims or outstanding private civil claims, BP said.

Terms of the settlement aren’t yet clear, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce the agreement at a news conference in New Orleans on Thursday afternoon, according to sources.

Justice Department officials declined to comment.

BP could be liable for a maximum penalty of $5.4 billion under the Clean Water Act, rising to as much as $21 billion if the company is found to be grossly negligent, which it has denied. A settlement at the higher end of that range could imply some negligence on BP’s part and empower plaintiffs with pending lawsuits to seek higher damages, legal analysts said.

A federal task force based in New Orleans has spent the past 29 months investigating the April 2010 accident, which killed 11 workers and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Prosecutors have reviewed thousands of documents and conducted dozens of interviews, including bringing individuals before a grand jury.

The amount of the fines BP will pay aren’t yet clear, but the settlement could surpass the $1.3 billion fine that Pfizer Inc. PFE -1.00% paid in 2009 for marketing fraud related to a pain medicine, a record criminal fine.

At stake are billions of dollars that would flow to five states affected by the spill, which gushed 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

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