US federal prosecutors have dropped manslaughter charges against two BP employees connected to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, making it highly unlikely that anyone will ever serve prison time over the far-reaching calamity.
The dropping of the charges against the two rig supervisors – Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza – ends the US government’s pursuit of criminal charges over the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 which resulted in 11 deaths and the worst environmental disaster in US history.
In 2012, then US attorney general Eric Holder lauded the indictments brought against Vidrine and Kaluza, stating: “We remain as determined as ever to hold those responsible accountable.” However, a New Orleans judge has now agreed with prosecutors that a criminal case was unlikely to succeed.
The two supervisors still have to face allegations that they violated the Clean Water Act, while BP itself is to pay substantial compensation. In October, the US Justice Department said BP will ultimately have to pay $20.8bn over the disaster following a record civil settlement.
The original indictment alleged that the two supervisors ignored clear warnings that the drilling well was unstable. The government has been criticised for focusing on two mid-ranking employees rather than senior BP executives.
“The fact that no one will ever spend a moment behind bars for having killed 11 men by their greed, by their negligence based entirely on greed, is astonishing to me. It’s disappointing,” said Keith Jones, whose 28-year-old son Gordon died in the Deepwater Horizon accident.
A Justice Department spokesman said the charges were dropped “because circumstances surrounding the case have changed since it was originally charged, and after a careful review the department determined it can no longer meet the legal standard for instituting the involuntary manslaughter charges”.
Earlier this year, David Rainey, a former BP executive, was acquitted of charges that he hindered an investigation into the oil spill by manipulating calculations on how much oil flooded into the Gulf of Mexico. Another former BP employee, engineer Kurt Mix, was convicted of obstruction but it was decided in July that a new trial will be held over his involvement.
The government estimates that more than 130m gallons of oil were leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from the spill, which took 87 days to plug. The oil slick from the spill grew to the size of Virginia and lapped at 1,300 miles of coastline, dooming thousands of marine creatures and seabirds.