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BP to plead guilty, pay $4.5b in Deepwater Horizons settlement

Fireboat crews battled the blazing remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which exploded in 2010.

US COAST GUARD VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE

Fireboat crews battled the blazing remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which exploded in 2010.

NEW YORK — BP said Thursday it would pay $4.5 billion in fines and other payments to the government and plead guilty to 14 criminal charges in connection with the Deepwater Horizons rig explosion and massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.

The payments include $4 billion related to the criminal charges and $525 million to securities regulators, the company said in a statement. As part of the settlement, BP agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect related to the deaths of 11 people in the explosion in April 2010, which released millions of barrels of oil into the gulf over the course of the next few months.

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The Justice Department also filed criminal charges against three BP employees Thursday. The two top BP officers aboard the rig, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, face manslaughter charges in connection with each of the men who died, alleging that they were negligent in supervising tests before the well blowout and explosion. The rig was destroyed in the blast and resulting fire.

Prosecutors also charged BP’s former vice president for exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, David Rainey, with obstruction of Congress and making false statements about the rate at which oil was spilling from the well.

‘‘This marks the largest single criminal fine and the largest total criminal resolution in the history of the United States,’’ Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference in New Orleans. He said much of the money will be used to restore the gulf.

Holder said the criminal investigation is still going on. Before Thursday, the only person charged was a former BP engineer who was arrested in April on obstruction of justice charges, accused of deleting text messages about the company’s handling of the spill.

Robert Dudley, who was named chief executive of BP after the disaster, expressed regret both for the deaths and the impact on the Gulf Coast. “We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today’s resolution with the US government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions,’’ he said.

Nelda Winslette, whose grandson Adam Weise of Yorktown, Texas, was killed in the blast, said somebody needs to be held accountable.

‘‘It just bothers me so bad when I see the commercials on TV and they brag about how the gulf is back, but they never say anything about the 11 lives that were lost,’’ Winslette said. “They want us to forget about it, but they don’t know what they've done to the families that lost someone.’’

While the settlement dispels one dark cloud that has hovered over BP since the spill, others remain. BP is still subject to other claims, including billions of dollars in federal civil claims and claims for damages to natural resources.

BP noted that the settlement does not resolve what is potentially the largest penalty related to the spill: fines under the Clean Water Act. The potential fine for the spill under the act is $1,100 to $4,300 a barrel spilled. That means the fine could be as much as $21 billion.

In addition to the 11 felonies related to the men killed in the accident, the company agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and one misdemeanor violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

BP also acknowledged that it had provided inaccurate information to the public early on about the rate at which oil was gushing from the well.

The company agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of obstruction of Congress over its statements on that issue.

The reaction on Capitol Hill was a mix of vindication and lingering outrage.

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

The Markey was chairman of the energy and environment subcommittee that led an inquiry into the disaster.

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.

BP also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $525 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, spread over three years, to resolve the agency’s claims that the company made misleading filings to investors about the flow rate.

Bobby Caina Calvan of Globe staff contributed to this report, which also used material from the Associated Press
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