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Reuters is reporting this evening that BP is expected to plead guilty to "criminal misconduct" in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster through a plea agreement it has reached with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The announcement may come as early as Thursday, according to what Reuters terms "to two sources familiar with discussions."

The sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that BP would plead guilty in exchange for a waiver of future prosecution on the charges.

BP and the Justice Department declined to comment.

London-based oil giant BP has been locked in months-long negotiations with the U.S. government and Gulf Coast states to settle billions of dollars of potential civil and criminal liability claims resulting from the April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The deal could resolve a significant share of the liability that BP faces after an explosion killed 11 workers and fouled the shorelines of four Gulf Coast states in the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. BP still faces economic and environmental damage claims sought by U.S. Gulf Coast states and other private plaintiffs.

There had been speculation earlier this year that the delays and perception of "silence" in regard to settlement issues were indications that any criminal aspects had to be determined first, and a criminal action against BP could substantially affect the civil parts of the case, including any disbursements to the plaintiffs involved.
It is unclear what form of criminal misconduct BP will plead guilty to. In an August filing, the Department of Justice said "reckless management" of the Macondo well "constituted gross negligence and willful misconduct," which it intended to prove at a pending civil trial set to begin in New Orleans in February 2013. The U.S. government has not yet filed any criminal charges in the case.
BP as the well owner, and Transocean as the rig operator face both criminal and civil liability charges.

FuelFix, a section of the Houston Chronicle devoted to petroleum news, states earlier this week that the status of the criminal investigation was unclear.

“We do need clarity of the criminal prosecution before there will be any civil settlement,” said University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann, a former federal prosecutor who is following the spill litigation closely but isn’t directly involved.

Lawyers for several possible individual defendants say they’ve had no recent contact from government investigators. BP continues to have discussions with the Justice Department about settling expected fines and penalties, but its lawyers are also preparing for a drawn-out court fight over how much oil spilled, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Stay tuned...this could get interesting.

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