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Criminal Charges Possible Against BP Engineers For Gulf Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burned on April 21, 2010.

hide captionThe Deepwater Horizon oil rig burned on April 21, 2010.

U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images

"U.S. prosecutors are preparing what would be the first criminal charges against BP PLC employees stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history," The Wall Street Journal reports this morning, citing "people familiar with the matter."

[9:45 a.m. ET: See update below from NPR's Carrie Johnson, who reports no decision has been made on whether to go ahead with charges.]

According to the Journal, the prosecutors are focusing on evidence that some BP engineers and supervisors may have given regulators false information about the risks associated with the drilling.

The Journal (longer excerpt posted here, by Fox News; both news outlets are owned by News Corp.) says that "a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment." That version of the Journal report also notes that "Justice still could decide not to bring charges against the individuals, people familiar with the situation said. It's not unusual for prosecutors to use the threat of charges to pressure people to cooperate in investigations."

Bloomberg Businessweek says that "Scott Dean, a spokesman for BP in Chicago, and David Nicholas, a London-based spokesman for the company, declined to comment on the report." It adds that:

"BP faces at least 350 lawsuits by thousands of coastal property owners and businesses claiming damages from the more than 4.1 million barrels of oil that gushed from its well off the Louisiana coast."

As we've reported, all the companies involved in the spill have been trading accusations about which was most responsible.

Update at 9:45 a.m ET. "No Final Decisions About Charges Have Been Made":

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that sources familiar with what's happening say no final decisions about charges have been made. As she tells the NPR Newscast Desk:

"The Justice Department task force that has been investigating the spill is starting to wrap up its work. And while prosecutors are looking into criminal charges against engineers at BP who may have under-estimated the dangers of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, they haven't yet decided whether to prosecute. Even if they do go ahead, defense attorneys for the engineers will have the option of appealing to higher ups at Justice.

"An attorney for one of the engineers said a decision to prosecute would be the beginning of the legal process, not the end.

"Meanwhile, the head of the task force, longtime Brooklyn prosecutor John Buretta, has stepped up his meetings with supervisors at Justice in Washington in recent weeks. Observers expect some decisions about criminal charges to come before a civil trial over liability for the spill begins in February."

Now that we've added Carrie's reporting, we've also tweaked the headline on this post. It originally read: "Report: Criminal Charges Being Prepared Against BP For Gulf Oil Spill."

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