The $4.5 billion criminal penalty that BP had to pay for the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill was pretty hefty, but a New Orleans judge may be about to triple that fine. Nearly five years after the disaster that dumped hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 workers, Judge Carl Barbier is mulling details of the federal case against the oil company to assess a fine, which may reach a maximum amount of $13.7 billion, the Guardian reports. This next phase of the case against BP was reached after Barbier's September ruling that the spill was due to BP's "reckless" conduct, as well as his decision on Thursday that although 4 million barrels streamed into the Gulf, BP should only be held responsible for 3.19 million barrels thanks to its cleanup efforts, saving the company billions of dollars, the New York Times reports.
Barbier's numbers are much lower than the government's estimate of nearly 5 million barrels of oil that flooded the Gulf, but still higher than BP's claim of 3.26 million barrels (2.45 million after cleanup), the Times notes. Each barrel carries a maximum Clean Water Act fine of $4,300, so the government's estimate could have meant an $18 billion penalty. Barbier indicated that differing data from both sides were "voluminous, dense, highly technical, and conflicting," per the Times. "There is no way to know with precision how much oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico," he wrote. Although the Justice Department and BP are reviewing last week's ruling (with BP lawyers arguing that dropping oil prices should factor into the fine, the Wall Street Journal adds), an ex-prosecutor for environmental crimes tells the Times that the decision was "a major victory for BP." (Read more Deepwater Horizon stories.)