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Representative Edward Markey hails record $4.5 billion fine against BP as just the beginning

WASHINGTON -- Representative Edward Markey, who led the congressional investigation into the 2010 Gulf oil spill, hailed Thursday’s record $4.5 billion fine against BP, saying it could be just the first installment in what could be billions of dollars more in penalties levied against the oil giant.

The offshore explosion at the Macondo well killed 11 workers and unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and causing widespread environmental and economic damage across the country’s southern shorelines.

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“Eleven Americans died. Then BP lied to the American people. And then they tried to cover it up,” Markey said at a Capitol news conference. “BP deserves this record-breaking penalty.”

The Malden Democrat was chairman of the energy and environment subcommittee that led the inquiry into the disaster.

The settlement announced Thursday does not include any potential civil penalties pending against the company, which could expose the company to more than $20 billion. One potential settlement between BP and more than 100,000 businesses and residents could cost the company as much as $8 billion.

As part of the settlement, which still needs approval by a federal judge, the company would plead guilty to a host of charges, including violations of environmental and wildlife laws, and a felony count of obstruction of Congress.

Under the settlement, the company admitted lying to members of Congress when it misrepresented the magnitude of the spill.

“BP lied to me, they lied to the people of the Gulf, and they lied to their shareholders, and they lied to all Americans,” said Markey, who as the ranking Democrat of the House Natural Resources Committee is one of Capitol Hill’s leading environmental crusaders.

“There should be no more argument. BP is guilty of negligent and grossly negligent conduct that resulted in 11 deaths. BP is guilty of actions that harmed the water and the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. And BP is guilty of lying to the Congress about what they had done and what they knew.”

At the time, BP officials downplayed the extent of the spill, claiming that a mere 5,000 barrels of oil per day was flowing into the gulf, when in fact more than 60,000 barrels a day was gushing from the damaged well.

“At the time that the disaster was occurring, I said that I thought that BP was either lying about the flow rate or that they were incompetent,” Markey said Thursday. “Today, we have confirmation that BP was both incompetent and that it was lying to the Congress.”

The motivation for the lie was clear, said Representative Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Waxman said BP “put profits ahead of safety, and the results were catastrophic.”

If the company is found to be guilty of gross negligence, BP could be liable for as much as $4,300 per barrel spilled, under the federal Clean Water Act. Based on revised, higher flow rates, the government estimates that some 4.1 million barrels of raw oil was discharged into the ocean. That could mean a civil penalty of at least $17.6 billion.

Federal investigators found evidence, including internal documents from the company, that the company knew that the flow of oil from the damaged well was much higher than its public pronouncements.

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.

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