BP to Pay $20 Billion Over Deepwater Horizon Spill. Is It Enough?

It took five years, but BP Oil will finally be made to pay up for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The energy giant will be required to pay up to $20.8 billion over the next 16 years, the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history. $5.5 billion will go toward Clean Water Act penalties with the rest destined to aid Gulf states’ cleanup and recovery efforts.

This settlement is undoubtedly a crucial victory in the effort to hold BP accountable for the 2010 Gulf spill. However, given the extreme extent to which the flooding of 134 million gallons of oil damaged ecosystems and natural resources — something still being assessed, five years later — and the loss of 11 lives, is this $20.8 billion settlement enough?

The settlement was finalized by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. Previously, Barbier has ruled BP to be “grossly negligent” and directly liable for the Gulf spill and rig explosion. According to BP’s 2015 annual report, the company boasted revenues of over $220†billion†that year. $20.8 billion, by comparison, especially when paid over the course of 16 years, is barely going to made a dent in BP’s bottom line.

This is hardly the only way the U.S. legal system has fallen short when it comes to punishing BP. Days after the settlement’s finalization, the last federal criminal case was brought to a close. Donald Vidrine, the supervisor of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for his role in the explosion. Despite the loss of 11 workers’ lives and the ecological catastrophe that followed, Vidrine was sentenced to just 10 months of probation.

With that case concluded, it’s now official: No one will do time in prison for the Gulf oil spill. Other charges have been brought up against BP officials, including against ex-Vice President David Rainey; most defendants were acquitted while several were given just a few months of probation. Vidrine’s 10 months of probation marks the harshest sentence set against a BP official tried in criminal court.

The acquittals, mild punishments and arguably minor monetary settlement sends the wrong message — namely, that what happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 can occur again with negligible consequences to the actors involved. Even with the human loss of life and the decades of ecological damage yet to come, BP and others can get off the hook.

Further muddling this message is the recent decision by the White House to open millions of Gulf acres up to deep water drilling operations. Over 44 million acres were bid on by energy concerns in March during an event held in New Orleans. This, oddly enough, came shortly after plans to allow offshore energy operations on the Atlantic Coast were dropped by the U.S. government, a move applauded by environmentalists. That decision was made in part because of the rapid growth of onshore drilling, like hydraulic fracturing.

A $20.8 billion settlement isn’t insignificant; it’s the largest ever levied in by the U.S. over an environmental disaster. However, being a settlement that could basically amount to $1.3 billion paid out yearly by BP over the next 16 years, to cheer this milestone shows how the U.S. government, historically, has (and continues to) not hold “grossly negligent” corporations appropriately accountable. This is especially clear when the harshest criminal sentence against any individual in BP amounts to a urine test once a month for less than a year.

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Nina S.
Nina S2 years ago


Maureen King
Maureen King2 years ago

Simply not good enough.
Thank you to Randy and all the other interesting comments.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

No amount of money will bring back the dead.

Nancy Wrightington

heck no .. unless they give everyone who lost their job a better job; kids an education and build up the eco-system better than it was before!!

Dave C.
David C2 years ago

they and all other poison petrol companies should put a fund of $20 billion each to cover any other future damages world wide, too

Patricia Harris
John Taylor2 years ago

I completely agree with the comments stating that, there isn't enough money in the world that can make up for the damages done to the environment. And why does it always take them so long to actually do something right, when they should've done something as soon as this mess started?!

S Gardner
sandy Gardner2 years ago

The fine should have been twice as high. The oil company gambled that the ship was in good enough shape to make a safe voyage, and they lost, resulting in a commission of crimes. If you do the fine you must do the time or pay the crime.

Veronica Danie
.2 years ago

Thank You!

Sherry Kohn
Sherry K2 years ago