🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more

BP oil engineers could face felony charges

Steve Chiotakis Dec 29, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: The U.S. government could soon bring criminal charges against some BP employees in the company’s huge 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the worst in U.S. history. The Wall Street Journal reports federal prosecutors are honing in on a group of BP engineers that work in Houston, and they could bring felony charges in just a matter of weeks.

Tom Fowler is a reporter for the Journal, and he’s based in Houston. Hey Tom.

Tom Fowler: Hey Steve, how are you?

Chiotakis: I’m doing well. What kinds of criminal charges are we talking about here?

Fowler: What the most recent stuff they’ve asked about appears to be charges of making false statements — of basically, putting inaccurate information on reports to the regulators. And that’s — if it turns out to be true, that would be a felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, and fines.

Chiotakis: But this is all just a maybe, right? I mean, we’re not sure federal prosecutors are going to pursue this course.

Fowler: No. There certainly has been pressure on the government to charge the company and individuals. Particularly at the height of the spill, everybody was calling for people’s heads. But again, these are very complicated cases. It might be hard for a prosecutor to make a case before a jury that people knew they were about to create the biggest oil spill in the nation’s history.

Chiotakis: If the federal prosecutors did end up charging these employees, would that be the end, do you think, of criminal prosectutions?

Fowler: Well, no. It’s widely believed that the company’s going to face criminal fines for violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Act, and that’s having to do with the spill itself. The oil was in the water, there’s really no way to refute where it came from, and there will be fines about that.

In terms of charges about the accident itself — the company’s role and their culpability in the actual events that led to the blowout — that’s something that if they do charge individuals, one would assume that they are going to take the next step and go after the company. You know, I hear from lots of readers who want to see the company admit to criminal culpability.

Chiotakis: Tom Fowler, reporter with the Wall Street Journal. Tom, thanks.

Fowler: Thank you Steve.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.