On October 25, 2007, oil giant BP agreed to pay $373 million in fines to settle 3 different investigations against it. In February 2004, BP tried to corner the US market in propane and stick its customers with higher prices. To avoid a criminal prosecution, it agreed to pay $303 million in fines.
On March 23, 2005, an explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas killed 15 and injured more than 170. The EPA found that BP had failed to install equipment mandated by the Clean Air Act to prevent the release of potentially explosive chemical vapors. As part of a felony plea agreement, BP paid $50 million in fines.
On March 5, 2006 a 200,000 gallon leak from a BP pipeline on to the arctic tundra was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The spill occurred over 5 days and was the result of BP skimping and cutting corners on routine maintenance over a period of years. In August 2006, a second spill occurred in the eastern part of the North Slope field. For these, BP pled guilty to a misdemeanor and paid $20 million in fines. A November 10, 2008 McClatchy article reports that the Justice Department terminated the investigation early going for a misdemeanor rather than a felony charge (which investigators thought they could get if given more time to process the evidence). The DOJ also accepted a fine amount which was substantially lower than that recommended by the EPA.
What this goes to show is that in spite of BP being a really bad corporate citizen and repeated offender, killing its workers, screwing its customers, and poisoning the environment, it was essentially let off by the Bush Justice Department. While $373 million may seem like a lot, BP’s gross profits for 2007 alone came to more than $31 billion, and the fine settled the government’s claims against it for the preceding 3 years. Looking at it from this longer perspective, BP executives could write it off as an acceptable cost of doing business.