VENICE, La., June 17 (UPI) -- BP's tab for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could zoom up astronomically if the U.S. government pursues criminal action against the British company, experts say.
While BP is setting aside $20 billion for claims, The New York Times reported Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James, estimated Wednesday the total legal cost, including fines should the company be found criminally responsible, at $62.9 billion.
The Times noted the civil penalty alone could be as much as $280 million a day and University of Michigan law Professor David M. Uhlmann, who headed the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department from 2000 to 2007, says the Alternative Fines Act allows the government to request twice the gain or loss associated with a criminal offense.
Criminal sanctions are not a given, but the Times said the standard for proving environmental misdemeanors can be relatively low under the Clean Water Act, although more serious crimes could require that the government show BP knew its actions would lead to the massive underwater leak on April 20 that has resulted in the worst spill in U.S. history. Charges under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act also could be considered, a Justice Department spokesman said.
Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames told the Times there was no time line for the civil or criminal investigations. Federal prosecutors, he said, are "looking for all possible violations of the law."
BP spokesman Toby Odone said the company would have no comment "on either current or future legal matters."