A judge in New Orleans has granted final approval to a settlement over BP's massive 2010 oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's record-setting $20 billion (17.5 billion euros) settlement, agreed with the federal government and five US states, includes $5.5 billion in civil Clean Water Act penalties and billions more to cover environmental damage and other claims by states and local governments along the Gulf of Mexico. The money is to be paid out over a period of 16 years.
The Justice Department has called it the largest environmental settlement in US history as well as the largest-ever civil settlement with a single entity.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Monday that the order was one more step toward helping make the region's economy whole and to correct "the worst environmental disaster in American history."
"BP is receiving the punishment it deserves, while also providing critical compensation for the injuries it caused to the environment and the economy of the Gulf region," Lynch said.
The judge's order came nearly five years to the day after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded, killing 11 workers and sending 134 million gallons (507 million liters) of oil into the Gulf. The spill ultimately spread across 43,000 miles, devastating the coast from Florida to Texas.
Judge Carl Barbier gave his final approval to the deal, first announced in July 2015, after setting the stage for the settlement with an earlier ruling that BP had acted with "gross negligence" in the disaster. He heard testimony from rig workers who survived the blast and from company executives who worked on the ill-fated drilling project.
A report released last year by the National Wildlife Federation found that sea creatures were still struggling, if not dying in large numbers. In Louisiana, for instance, bottle-nose dolphins in 2014 were being found dead at four times the historic rate. Tens of thousands of small sea turtles known as Kemp's Ridley died after the disaster, and the number of nests in the region has continued to plummet.
Fisheries in the Gulf were temporarily shut down, and under a previous settlement, BP agreed to pay billions in compensation. But some fishermen argued that the oil giant paid out unevenly, according to Reuters, while others remained in protracted disputes with the company.
A Justice Department criminal investigation resulted in charges against four mostly lower-ranking BP employees. Most of those cases fizzled. In February, a jury acquitted BP rig supervisor Robert Kaluza of a misdemeanor pollution charge. Another rig supervisor, Donald Vidrine, pleaded guilty to the same charge after federal prosecutors abandoned more serious manslaughter charges against the two supervisors.
Former BP executive David Rainey was acquitted of charges he manipulated spill-related calculations. Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was convicted of obstruction of justice for deleting a string of text messages, but a judge ordered a new trial amid allegations of juror misconduct. Mix ultimately pleaded guilty to a less serious charge and was sentenced to six months of probation.
In a statement, BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said: "We are pleased that the Court has entered the Consent Decree, finalizing the historic settlement announced last July."
uhe/cjc (AP, dpa)