Offshore driller settles oil rig explosion cases

A hefty check is all it took to relieve offshore drilling company Transocean Ltd. of criminal and civil liability resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The U.S. Department of Justice, in exchange for a $1.4 billion penalty, will close the books on the deadly accident. The company owned the drilling platform that exploded in flames in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an oil pollution crisis that spoiled hundreds of miles of beachfront in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Transocean has already socked away $2 billion to pay claims related to the disaster, the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. BP was operating Transocean’s rig at the time, and has already paid a $4.5 billion fine to settle all of the criminal charges and some of the civil claims brought by the government. The oil producer was charged with 11 counts of “seaman’s manslaughter” and a misdemeanor pollution charge.

Transocean’s finances have hit rough water lately. The company reported a net loss of $381 million for the third quarter of 2012. BP is not yet sailing on calm seas with federal officials. In addition to the $4.5 billion already paid, BP could be hooked for another $20 billion in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act. The company can probably settle the civil claims for less than that amount, but if the oil giant decides to go to court, the penalties could range as high as $4,300 for each of the 4.9 million barrels of oil that gushed out of the blownout well head.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Transocean to settle all U.S. claims in Gulf oil rig disaster,” Tom Fowler, Jan. 3, 2013