Claims and Litigation

Civil and Criminal

What are these claims?

When a party discharges oil in violation of a statute, it may be liable for civil or administrative fines, and/or criminal penalties.

For more about what happens to the civil fines, visit our Clean Water Act and RESTORE page.

CWA Civil Fines

The CWA prohibits the discharge of oil into navigable waters in amounts that may be harmful to the public or natural resources. The Act allows the U.S. to file suit to recover civil or administrative fines for such violations, and sets a statutory maximum on the amount of those fines. Courts must take into account a number of factors, including the amount of oil spilled, the party’s culpability, and certain other factors (e.g. party’s efforts to minimize the effects of the spill), in determining the ultimate amount of the fines.

CWA Criminal Penalties

If a party negligently or knowingly caused the spill, they may also be liable for criminal penalties.

Other Penalties

In addition to CWA fines and penalties, the government may also file suit to recover penalties under other environmental statutes (e.g., the Migratory Bird Treaty Act), resource statutes (e.g. Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act), and general criminal statutes (e.g., laws against fraud and racketeering).

What parties are subject to federal civil fines under the CWA?

On Dec. 8, 2011, the U.S. filed a motion asking the court to find, among other things, BP, Anadarko, and Transocean liable for CWA fines. On Feb. 22, 2012, the district court found BP and Anadarko liable for civil fines, but did not make a determination with respect to Transocean. Transocean settled its CWA fines in 2013 (see below). The amounts of BP’s and Anadarko’s fines are still being litigated in court.

Settlements for Civil and Criminal Penalties

The DOJ has settled various civil claims and criminal charges without a trial:

– February 17, 2012 – CWA civil fines against MOEX:  The DOJ, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Environmental Protection Agency entered into a $90 million civil settlement with MOEX. MOEX agreed to pay $70 million in civil fines and to spend $20 million on Supplemental Environmental Projects focused on land acquisition and habitat protection. The court approved the settlement on June 18, 2012.

– November 15, 2012 – Criminal charges against BP: BP pled guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect of ship officers, one misdemeanor count of violating the CWA, one misdemeanor count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and one felony count of obstruction of Congress. The court accepted the $4.0 billion plea on Jan. 29, 2013. Civil claims against BP are still pending.

– January 3, 2013 – CWA civil fines and criminal charges against Transocean: The DOJ and Transocean announced an agreement consisting of a partial consent decree and a guilty plea agreement. The $1.4 billion settlement includes CWA civil fines and settles all criminal charges against Transocean; other civil claims are still pending. The criminal plea was accepted Feb. 14, 2013 and the partial civil settlement was approved Feb. 19, 2013.

For more details on these settlements, view our claims and litigation fact sheets.

Click on the claims below for more information:

Economic Claims Header

Securities Claims

Rest. and Oil Removal

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DISCLAIMER: This overview is prepared for informational purposes only to inform individuals who are not involved in the litigation. It is not prepared for litigation and is not legal advice. Individuals with potential claims should consult with their own attorney. The information on this page is current as of September 2014.