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Transocean Pleads Guilty in Deepwater Horizon Case

Few can forget the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that caused disaster off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Slated to be the largest accidental maritime oil spill in the entire history of the petroleum industry, it is not surprising that the disaster remains a hot topic of conversation to this day. In fact, it is still a matter of legal pursuit – one that recently made great headway.

Transocean Deepwater Inc. has officially agreed to a guilty plea in regard to claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) during its conduct in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Specifically, Transocean Deepwater Inc. has signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the government which will make the company responsible for paying no less than $1.4 billion in civil fines and criminal penalties.

January 3, 2013 will be a remembered by maritime and legal professionals as the day that the proposed partial civil consent decree was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana. The intent of the degree is to resolve the civil penalty claims against Transocean Deepwater Inc. that were filed by the U.S. government. In addition, another $1 billion will be paid by Transocean Ocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Deepwater Inc., Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., and Triton Asset Leasing GMBH.

The plea agreement decrees that $400 million will paid in criminal fines and penalties by Transocean Deepwater Inc., and continual cooperation with the government's criminal investigations will be expected of the drilling company. The civil settlement, which includes penalty claims related to the Macondo Well oil spill that lasted for 3 months, also requires the implementation of court-enforced measures that will be aimed at improving the industry's operational safety standards and emergency response efforts during drilling rig work.

The disastrous events of April 2010 that relate to the Macondo well site in the Gulf of Mexico were the result of an uncontrolled blowout and the explosions/fire that resulted from it. With the recent plea agreement, however, official court documents now show that the 11 deaths of oil rig workers aboard the plant were a direct result of negligent crew members who were acting under the direction of BP's own company men, or "Well Site Leaders."

The criminal fines that have been applied to Transocean Deepwater Inc. and related companies are meant to directly benefit the Gulf region that was initially made to suffer. The order that was presented to the court specified that $150 million of the total $400 million in criminal recovery fess will be used to acquire, restore, preserve, and conserve the maritime and coastal environments of the area. In conjunction with state and resource managers, the Gulf's ecosystems and wildlife habits that were harmed will now be given the opportunity to recover under the financial support that will be offered from some of the criminal fines being paid by Transocean Deepwater Inc.

Additional portions of the criminal fines will be used to aid in the restoration of the barrier island, as well as the river diversion, both of which are located off the coast of Louisiana. Another $150 million will be directed to funds aimed at improving the efforts at oil spill prevention and response. The $1 billion civil penalty – an unprecedented amount – will be subject to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economics of the Gulf Coast States Act (Restore Act of 2012). Civil claims will reserve resources for cleanup costs and natural resource damages as well.

The criminal and civil fines that were agreed to yesterday are both part of larger investigations into the BP oil spill of 2010 that continue to be ongoing. The Deepwater Horizon Task Force will continue its criminal investigation into the matters associated with the spill. Litigation against the defendants – Transocean, BP Exploration and Production Inc., and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation – is expected to continue as well.

As Houston personal injury attorneys, and legal maritime professionals, at Arnold & Itkin LLP we recognize the degree of significance that is carried by such claims and plea agreements. We are personally familiar with maritime and offshore injury laws in general, and we are intimately involved in the details of the Deepwater Horizon spill that ravaged Gulf waters in 2010. As the case continues to build momentum, and more financial claims and criminal pleas are processed, we will be here to keep our followers updated. Contact an injury lawyer at our firm for more details about the case.