US prosecutors are readying criminal charges against British oil giant BP employees over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident that led to the catastrophic Gulf oil spill, The Wall Street Journal reported online.
The charges if brought and prosecuted by the US Justice Department would be the first criminal charges over the disaster.
Citing sources close to the matter, the Journal said the prosecutors are focusing on US-based BP engineers and at least one supervisor who they say may have provided false information to regulators on the risks of deep water drilling in the Gulf.
Felony charges for providing false information in federal documents may be made public early next year, said the Journal.
A conviction on that charge would carry a fine and up to five years in prison, the newspaper said.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has already issued a second list of violations regarding BP’s operation of the Macondo well that blew out in April 2010, causing the worst maritime environmental disaster in history.
The US drilling safety agency has said it determined BP had failed to conduct an accurate pressure integrity test in one area of the well.
And in four different sections of the well, BP failed to suspend drilling operations at the Macondo when the safe drilling margin was not maintained, the agency said.
An explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people, and the well gushed oil into the ocean for 87 days, blackening the southern US shoreline and crippling the local tourism and fishing sectors.
By the time the well was capped, 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil had spilled out of the runaway well 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
In October the US government slapped BP, Transocean — the Swiss owner and operator of thedrilling rig — and US oil services group Halliburton with citations for violating oil industry regulations in what is expected to lead to massive fines.
BP — which leased the rig and was ultimately responsible for operations — has spent more than $40 billion on the disaster and could still be liable for billions in fines, compensation and restoration costs.
In October, it recovered $4.0 billion in costs associated with the spill from US group Anadarko Petroleum Company, which agreed to transfer its 25 percent stake in the well to BP.