NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge on Tuesday approved an agreement for BP PLC to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges and pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties for the company's role in the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Before she ruled, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance heard testimony from relatives of 11 workers who died when BP's blown-out Macondo well triggered an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and started the spill.
BP agreed in November to plead guilty to charges involving the workers' deaths and for lying to Congress about the size of the spill from its broken well, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil. Much of it ended up in the Gulf and soiled the shorelines of several states. The company could have withdrawn from the agreement if Vance had rejected it.
Neither the Justice Department nor BP presented arguments to the judge before her decision in New Orleans.
Vance said the plea deal was "just punishment" considering the risks of litigation for BP and the alternatives to the settlement. She told victims' relatives who were in court that she read their "truly gut-wrenching" written statements and factored their words into her decision.
"I've heard and I truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered," she said.
She said she also believes BP executives should have personally apologized to family members.
"I think BP should have done that out of basic humanity," she said.
The deal doesn't resolve the federal government's civil claims against BP. The company could pay billions more in penalties for environmental damage.
BP separately agreed to a settlement with lawyers for Gulf Coast residents and businesses who claim the spill cost them money. BP estimates the deal with private attorneys will cost the company roughly $7.8 billion.