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EPA suspends BP from new federal contracts

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has suspended BP from bidding on any new federal contracts as a result of the company’s conduct during the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster that led to 11 deaths and the largest US offshore spill.

The temporary contracting ban came early on the day the Interior Department held a sale of leases on 20 million acres of offshore oil and gas prospects in the western Gulf of Mexico, which the department said attracted $133 million in bids. Sources close to BP said the company did not submit any bids.

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The EPA said the suspension would not affect BP’s current contracts or leases, which are crucial to the company. The London-based oil giant is the largest leaseholder in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, with more than 700 leases, and it is the gulf’s largest producer of oil and gas from more than 20 fields there.

In 2011, BP was also the largest supplier of fuel to the US military, with contracts worth about $1.35 billion.

Meanwhile, two BP rig supervisors and a former BP executive pleaded not guilty Wednesday to criminal charges stemming from the deadly Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and the company’s response to the massive 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP’s well site leaders, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, along with a former BP vice president of exploration for the Gulf, David Rainey, remained free on bond following their arraignments in federal court.

Kaluza and Vidrine are charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 11 rig workers. They are accused of disregarding abnormally high pressure readings that should have been glaring indications of trouble just before the blowout of BP’s Macondo well.

‘When someone recklessly crashes a car, their license and keys are taken away.’

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Rainey was charged separately with concealing information from Congress about the amount of oil that was leaking from the well. Millions of gallons of crude oil spewed from BP’s well for months.

Kaluza professed his innocence on his way into court, making his first public comments since the April 2010 explosion.

‘‘I think about the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon every day,’’ Kaluza told reporters. ‘‘But I did not cause this tragedy. I am innocent and I put my trust, reputation, and future in the hands of the judge and the jury.’’

Kaluza and Vidrine’s lawyers both accused the Justice Department of using their clients as scapegoats. They noted that other government investigations have spread out the blame for the disaster and concluded it was the product of a complex series of mistakes, made both onshore and on the rig.

The EPA ban follows BP’s agreement to settle criminal charges for $4.5 billion, the largest such payment ever in a criminal settlement with the Justice Department.

Although the EPA did not say how long the ban would last, regulations generally limit such suspensions to 18 months. But it could last until the end of legal proceedings, and BP and the Justice Department are still locked in a dispute over civil charges tied to the oil spill.

The EPA said the suspension could be lifted when ‘‘the company can provide sufficient evidence to EPA demonstrating that it meets Federal business standards.’’

The next Gulf of Mexico lease sale is March 20; it will make 38 million acres off Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama available.

BP said ‘‘it has been in regular dialogue with the EPA’’ and has submitted a ‘‘responsibility statement of more than 100 pages and supplemental answers to the EPA’s questions based on that submission.’’ BP said the EPA told the company that it was preparing a ‘‘proposed administrative agreement’’ that, if agreed upon, would resolve and lift the suspension.

Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst with Oppenheimer, said the suspension would ‘‘not [have] a big impact in the near term but is more negative long term. It essentially puts BP in the penalty box, although it has not been kicked out of the game.’’

The EPA said in a statement that it was acting ‘‘due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response.’’ BP’s settlement of criminal charges included guilty pleas on 11 counts of misconduct or neglect of ship officers, one count of obstruction of Congress, one misdemeanor count of a violation of the Clean Water Act, and one misdemeanor count of a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat of Massachusetts and the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, called it ‘‘the right thing to do.’’ He said, ‘‘When someone recklessly crashes a car, their license and keys are taken away.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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