Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

Federal Judge: BP 'Grossly Negligent' in Gulf Oil Disaster

Ruling makes oil company liable for potentially billions in damages

Andrea Germanos

The 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was the result of BP's “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct,” a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling on Thursday by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier means the oil giant could be responsible for as much as $18 billion in penalties under the Clean Water Act, as the  Act allows for the maximum fine per barrel of oil discharged to be quadruple the $1,100 per barrel fine when the discharge results from gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Barbier also placed blame on Transocean and Halliburton, though the bulk of the blame was appropriated to BP.  He stated that BP was 67% at fault for the disaster, Transocean was 30% at fault, and Halliburton was 3% at fault. 

The New York Times adds:

In a 153-page, densely technical decision, Judge Barbier described how BP repeatedly ignored mounting warning signs that the well was unstable, making decisions that he says were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

Healthy ocean advocacy group Ocean Conservancy welcomed Barbier's ruling, stating that "BP has spent inordinate amounts of time and money shirking responsibility, pointing fingers at others and downplaying the seriousness of the disaster." The group also stated that the decision "means more funding available for restoring the Gulf."

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) said the ruling was step towards accountability for the disaster that "put people and wildlife in grave danger."

"Eleven men lost their lives. Bottlenose dolphins, endangered sea turtles and countless species of fish and wildlife perished. Studies have estimated that the oil killed an astonishing 800,000 birds and caused billions of dollars of economic damage," stated Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of NWF. 

"Today's decision is a critical step towards ensuring that BP is held accountable for the full impacts of the Gulf oil disaster and required to restore the vibrant ecosystem of this national treasure—justice demands nothing less," O’Mara stated.

Barbier's ruling on BP's conduct comes the same week as an announcement that Halliburton had reached a $1.1 billion settlement for its role in the oil disaster, while Transocean reached a settlement last year to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties for its role in the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

As the Washington Post notes, the next two parts of the case will determine the amount of oil that was discharged into the Gulf and the total amount in fines.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Facebook 'Appallingly Failed' to Detect Election Misinformation in Brazil, Says Democracy Watchdog

"The disinformation that Facebook allows on its platform feeds into the 'stop the steal' narrative in Brazil—a growing tactic intended to set the stage for contesting the election."

Julia Conley ·


'Scary Stuff': GOP Election Deniers Surge to Victory in 2024 Battlegrounds

"This is how our democracy could crumble, quickly and quietly," warned one observer.

Jake Johnson ·


On Social Security's 87th Birthday, Progressives Warn GOP Wants to 'Take a Chainsaw to It'

"We need to pass Social Security 2100 to protect and expand this vital service," said the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Jake Johnson ·


House Democrats Request 'Damage Assessment' Following Recovery of Classified Docs

"Former President Trump's conduct has potentially put our national security at grave risk," Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Adam Schiff wrote to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Kenny Stancil ·


Violent Threats Against FBI Soar as Trump Lies About Mar-a-Lago Search

Menacing messages posted online "include a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI Headquarters" and "general calls for 'civil war' and 'armed rebellion,'" officials warned.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo