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Gulf oil spill: another record settlement

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Transocean pleaded guilty for violating the U.S. Clean Water Act and agreed to pay $400 million in criminal penalties for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The overall settlement, which includes the $400 million criminal fines and $1 billion in civil penalties that has yet to be approved by a federal judge, is the second-largest environmental crime recovery in U.S. history.

The settlement follows a record agreement by BP to pay $4.5 billion in penalties, including $1.26 billion in criminal fees and $525 million to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Transocean's criminal payments will be directed to the National Academy of Sciences and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, where they will be used to restore and protect coastal and marine environments impacted by the spill and improve oil spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf.

As I've noted before, BP and Transocean aren't free and clear, just yet. The criminal settlement with BP doesn’t cover what could be the largest penalty: up to $21 billion in Clean Water Act violations (if the company is found grossly negligent).

And there's still a trial scheduled to begin in New Orleans on February 25. The trial, which could cost the companies billions of dollars in civil penalties, is designed to identify the causes of BP's Macondo well blowout, which triggered the rig explosion and sent millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

On a side note: the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico did spur quite a bit of innovation within the industry, including how ocean data is collected and cutting edge methods to clean up crude from oil spills.

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard; Deepwater Horizon Response

— By on February 15, 2013, 12:43 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure