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As BP Set to Plead Guilty for 2010 Spill, Some Good News From Gulf Wildlife

BP may be about to pay the largest criminal fine in U.S. history

Fire-fighting boats battle the blaze at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

More than two and a half years have passed since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform killed eleven workers and sent millions of barrels of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, but the full effects of that disaster are still being sussed out. Earlier this year, scientists confirmed that the spilled oil was related to the deaths of hundreds of dolphins. Researchers also found that balls of oil found strewn along the Louisiana and Alabama coastlines in the wake of hurricane Isaac were made up from oil that had been lingering in the Gulf waters.

In a partial end to the saga, BP, the company that operated the Deepwater Horizon, is set to plead guilty to obstruction charges and pay billions of dollars in fines to the U.S. government, Reuters and the Associated Press report.

AP:

British oil giant BP PLC has agreed to pay the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history, totalling billions of dollars, for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a person familiar with the deal said Thursday.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record about the deal, also said two BP PLC employees face manslaughter charges over the death of 11 people in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the massive spill.

Reuters:

The sources did not disclose the amount of BP’s payment for the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico and leak from the Macondo oil well, but one said it would be the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.

On top of the potential multi-billion-dollar fine, says Reuters:

BP has sold over $30 billion worth of assets to fund the costs of the spill. Matching that, it has already spent about $14 billion on clean-up costs and paid out, or agreed to pay out, a further $16 billion on compensation and claims. The disaster has dragged it from second to a distant fourth in the ranking of top western world oil companies by value. Though the settlement could see a close to the majority of the legal aspects of the BP oil spill, the effects on the ecosystem are likely to be ongoing.

Amidst the memories that the settlement will likely dredge up for residents along the southern shores, some good news comes in the form of a study, described by Chemical and Engineering News: the Gulf’s oysters seem to have somehow avoided accidentally consuming the spilled oil.

Oysters feed by filtering water through their bodies and removing particles. The team measured the ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes of the oysters’ tissue, the oil, and the suspended matter in brackish water that makes up the oysters’ normal diet.

The ratios of these isotopes in oil are distinct from those of the oysters’ normal food. The researchers found that the oysters’ flesh and shells, whose composition reflects their diet, showed no significant shift toward oil’s isotopic signature.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Five Myths of the Gulf Oil Spill
UPDATED: The World’s Worst Oil Spills

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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