WASHINGTON -- The federal government and Gulf Coast states have reached an $18.7 billion settlement agreement with the oil company BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The settlement deal, announced by the Department of Justice on Friday, includes penalties for all remaining federal and state claims, such as civil penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act and for damages to natural resources. It is the largest settlement with a single company to date, according to DOJ.
The 2010 spill lasted 87 days and dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. BP and the federal government had previously reached a $4 billion settlement over criminal charges stemming from the accident, which killed 11 workers.
The settlement has been reached in principle, DOJ said, but will still need to be approved by federal court.
“Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill -- the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history -- the Justice Department has been fully committed to holding BP accountable, to achieving justice for the American people and to restoring the environment and the economy of the Gulf region at the expense of those responsible and not the American taxpayer," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Friday. "If approved by the court, this settlement would be the largest settlement with a single entity in American history; it would help repair the damage done to the Gulf economy, fisheries, wetlands and wildlife; and it would bring lasting benefits to the Gulf region for generations to come."
The settlement includes $5.5 billion in civil penalties stemming from violations of the Clean Water Act and $7.1 billion for additional natural resource damages, both to be paid over a 15-year period. It also includes $5.9 billion in economic and other claims for Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and 400 local government entities.
Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman, said in a statement that the agreement will provide "a path to closure for BP and the Gulf." After considering the potential costs of continuing litigation over the spill, he said, the company's board decided that the settlement would be the best way to "set a clear course for the future."
"It resolves the company's largest remaining legal exposures, provides clarity on costs and creates certainty of payment for all parties involved," Svanberg said.
Environmental groups offered a mixed response to the agreement. Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, called the settlement "a victory for the wildlife of the Gulf" that "brings to a close the long legal ordeal that had left restoration efforts in limbo and it gives us certainty moving forward."
But other groups said the total fines were nowhere near what the feds could have forced BP to pay.
A judge deemed BP "grossly negligent" last year, which means under the Oil Pollution Act, the company could have faced fees of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled -- which would have totaled nearly $14 billion for those violations alone.
"If the court approves this proposal, BP will be getting off easy and 'we the people' will not be fully compensated for the natural resource damages that we suffered, and the law requires that the public is made whole for those damages," said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president of the environmental group Oceana, in a statement. "$18.7 billion may sound like a lot of money, and it is, but it pales in comparison to what BP owes."
This story has been updated to include statements from the National Wildlife Federation and Oceana.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated that the number of oil barrels spilled was over 4 billion. The correct figure is over 4 million.