A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Tuesday ruled that 810,000 barrels of oil collected by British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] immediately following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder] will not be used in calculations to determine damages under the Clean Water Act (CWA) [EPA summary]. US District Judge Carl Barbier determined [Reuters report] those 810,000 barrels qualified as "collected," as they were funneled through the "blow-out preventer" and collected immediately by BP without coming "into contact with any ambient sea water." The decision could reduce the potential penalty that BP will pay by as much as $3.5 billion based on CWA guidelines which impose a maximum fine of $4,300 per barrel if it is determined that BP's behavior was "gross negligence." BP welcomed [statement] the ruling and suggested they would remain vigilant in its efforts to fight any penalties they feel are excessive.
Tuesday's ruling was the most recent development in a long series of legal battles that have arisen from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Earlier this month the owner of the drilling rig which caused the spill, Transocean Deepwater Inc. [corporate website] pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to "negligently discharging oil into the Gulf of Mexico," in violation of the CWA and will pay $1 billion in civil penalties and $400 million in criminal penalties for its role in the Deepwater Horizon spill. Last month a federal judge approved [JURIST report] a final class settlement between BP and those who experienced economic and property loss stemming from the spill. In November BP executives pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to criminal charges stemming from the oil spill. Earlier that month BP agreed to pay [JURIST report] $4.5 billion in penalties for felony misconduct for its role in the spill. A federal judge ordered [JURIST report] BP to share partial liability with Transocean in oil spill claims in January 2012.