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Transocean Gets Off Easy With 'Wholly Inadequate' Gulf Settlement

Those responsible for 'largest environmental disaster in American history' continue to roam free in Gulf of Mexico

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Transocean Deepwater Inc. was handed a free pass by the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday, pleading guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act in exchange for a relatively nominal fine and no further criminal penalties for the 2010 oil spill that polluted the Gulf of Mexico with 200 million gallons of oil over a three month period, causing untold damage.

An oil-covered brown pelican sits in a pool of oil along Queen Bess Island Pelican Rookery, about 3 miles northeast of Grand Isle, La., June 2010 (Sean Gardner/Reuters/File) Transocean, owner of the drilling rig that exploded, will now pay a total of $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties—an amount Sierra Club called "wholly inadequate" in relation to the massive amounts of environmental degradation and the loss of human lives resulting from the massive disaster.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune released the following statement in response:

Just a month ago the Sierra Club called on the Obama Administration to hold BP and their contractors fully accountable for the largest environmental disaster in American history. The settlement announced yesterday, like the $4 billion settlement of BP’s criminal charges last month, is wholly inadequate to the damage these companies caused – the loss of human life and the disruption of the entire Gulf ecosystem and economy. With these weak settlements, Gulf communities, families and businesses are being sold out to Big Oil for pennies on the dollar. BP and their contractors must pay the real cost of this disaster, no less than $60 billion, and be held accountable for their careless and illegal operations that created this disaster.

After the deal, Transocean's immediately began profiting once again. According to Bloomberg, "Transocean shares (RIG) surged the most in 28 months after the settlement was announced yesterday and yields on company debt fell, signaling rising investor demand...now that most of the uncertainty about potential liabilities for the Macondo [well] accident has been resolved."

Three years after the disaster, Transocean still operates widely in the Gulf of Mexico. Fourteen of the 39 rigs actively drilling in Gulf water depths of at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) are owned by Transocean, more than any other operator, according to Dice Holdings Inc.’s Rigzone, which tracks global offshore rig data.

Thursday's settlement resolves the DoJ's civil and criminal prosecution of Transocean.

Transocean still faces a settlement with the Macondo plaintiffs steering committee, which represents more than 100,000 individuals and business owners claiming economic and medical damages from the spill, but could take years to settle.

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