Two well-site supervisors and one former executive of British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] pleaded not guilty in US federal court on Tuesday to criminal charges stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The two supervisors, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, are each charged with manslaughter [Bloomberg report] in connection with the death of 11 workers during the spill. Federal investigators have alleged that Kaluza and Vidrine ignored warning signs leading up to the spill. Former BP executive David Rainey is facing obstruction charges based on allegations that he lied to federal investigators to downplay the severity of the spill. All three men pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] announced that BP would be indefinitely suspended [press release] from bidding on government contracts, saying the company's "lack of business integrity" has disqualified them from consideration. The EPA said that it would only contract with BP again if the company shows that it "meets Federal business standards," but it did not specify what the company must do.
US Attorney General Eric Holder announced earlier this month that BP had agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and to plead guilty [JURIST report] to felony misconduct for its role in the devastation caused by the oil spill. Also this month, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana heard arguments [JURIST report] regarding approval of a class-action settlement agreement between BP and various individuals and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident. There, attorneys on both sides urged Judge Carl Barbier to approve the settlement agreement, under which BP is expected to pay approximately $7.8 billion. It has been argued that the settlement is a step in the right direction [JURIST op-ed] for compensating those affected by the oil spill. In May Barbier signed a case management order [JURIST report] outlining the structure for the upcoming trial of Gulf oil spill claims, scheduled for January 14, 2013. The judge divided the trial into two phases. In phase one, or the "incident" phase, the court will address issues arising out of the various parties' conduct leading to the incident and appropriation of their negligence. Barbier gave preliminary approval [JURIST report] to the proposed settlement agreement earlier that month.