Judge: BP grossly negligent in 2010 oil spill

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was due to BP’s gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The ruling by District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans opens BP to $18 billion in fines under the Clean Water Act, the maximum allowable, the Houston Chronicle reported.

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To hit that ceiling, Barbier would have to rule later that more than 4 million barrels of oil was spilled. He could make that ruling at any time.

Barbier’s decision came more than four years after the incident, in which an explosion on the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and caused oil to spill for months. Federal officials say 4.9 million barrels were spilled into the gulf, making it the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Barbier blamed the spill on negligent acts and omissions, including drilling in the well “with little or no margin,” the Chronicle said.

BP has already spent $28 billion to settle claims from businesses, fishermen, property owners and others from damages the oil caused in the gulf and on the shore. Transocean and Halliburton, contractors on the well, have also paid some settlements.