By Zack Colman - 01/03/13 10:22 PM EST
Transocean Deepwater Inc. will pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties for its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf, agreed to a settlement by pleading guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and to negligence charges.
The firm will pay a record $1 billion in civil penalties under the Clean Water Act. Under the Restore Act, which Congress passed last year, about 80 percent of the civil fines must go to Gulf states to fund environmental and economic restoration.
It also agreed to pay another $400 million in criminal fees to settle negligence charges. Of that total, $150 million will go to reconstructing marine and wildlife ecosystems in the Gulf region.
"These important agreements, which the company believes to be in the best interest of its shareholders and employees, remove much of the uncertainty associated with the accident," Transocean said in a statement. "This is a positive step forward, but it is also a time to reflect on the 11 men who lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon."
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) called the settlement an "important, positive step forward" in assisting the Gulf's recovery.
Still, Vitter assigned much of the spill's blame to BP, which operated the Macondo well site where Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig blew out.
"Hopefully this leads soon to much bigger final action with BP, the main culprit in this horrible disaster," Vitter, the top Republican on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said in a Thursday statement.
The April 20, 2010, blowout and resulting fire killed 11 workers. BP failed to contain the well, letting an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil escape into the Gulf.
BP paid a record $4 billion in criminal penalties in November to settle federal charges regarding the spill as well as an additional $525 million for securities violations. It still could face civil fines.
BP said in a statement Thursday that the Transocean settlement "underscores what every official investigation has found: that the Deepwater Horizon accident resulted from multiple causes, involving multiple parties."
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the penalties would help hold oil companies to a higher level of safety.
"[T]his settlement also underscores how risky it can be to open our coastlines to oil and gas drilling," Markey said in a statement.
In addition to the fines, Transocean must also implement measures to bolster operational safety and emergency response at all its drilling rigs working in U.S. waters, Justice said.
“Transocean’s rig crew accepted the direction of BP well site leaders to proceed in the face of clear danger signs — at a tragic cost to many of them. Transocean’s agreement to plead guilty to a federal crime, and to pay a total of $1.4 billion in criminal and civil penalties, appropriately reflects its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, said Thursday in a statement.
— This story was originally published at 1:15 p.m. and last updated at 5:22 p.m.