Oil giant BP was “grossly negligent” in the build up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a US judge has ruled.
The disaster, at BP’s offshore oil rig, cost the lives of 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in US history, with 4-5 million barrels’ worth of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP’s shares fell 6% after New Orleans judge Carl Barbier said BP should take 67% of the blame for the spill, potentially leaving the firm subject to billions more in compensation payments.
Barbier said the company made careless “profit-driven decisions” that led directly to the blowout, accusing BP of displaying “a conscious disregard of known risks”.
The firm has already agreed to pay considerable fines, but fear that sum could now be quadrupled to around $18 billion (£11bn). In its latest annual report, BP revealed it had earmarked $3.5 billion (£2.1) for future fines, suggesting the ruling has taken it by surprise.
In a statement, BP announced its intention to appeal against the decision, calling Barbier’s conclusion “erroneous”.
“The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case,” it said.
It was recently announced that many shareholders, including a number of London councils, are also suing BP over the oil spill, after a US court ruled they are allowed to claim compensation payments.
The lawsuit, launched by New York-based Pomerantz Law, has received the backing of Kensington and Chelsea council, the City of Westminster council, Cumbria county council and the Shell Pension Trust.
Recent studies have also found that the environmental impacts of the spill have persisted in the surrounding waters. Conservationists say 14 species are still yet to recover, while many deep sea coral reefs have also been affected.