The plea deal stems from the April 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers, injured dozens more and produced the worst offshore drilling oil spill in U.S. history -- more than 200 million gallons of crude.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance agreed to accept the British oil producer's offer to plead guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress and a variety of environmental crimes, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.
Her decision came after BP officials and U.S. Justice Department attorneys explained the agreement and some family members of those killed in the accident urged she reject it as inadequate, the newspaper said.
Albert Keller, vice president of BP America, apologized on behalf of the company to family members and Gulf Coast residents for his company's role in the accident and spill.
"No one can bring those fathers, husbands and sons back, but I am here to express our apologies," Keller said.
Billy Anderson said his son, Jason, a Transocean worker, and the others who died on the rig, "suffered a horrendous death."
"They were basically cremated alive," Anderson said, adding paying a record fine was not enough. "We are here to punish people."
Chris Jones, whose brother, Gordon Jones, was killed in the oil rig blast, told the Houston Chronicle the plea deal made BP "the real winner" Tuesday.
"They got what they wanted -- to resolve the criminal charges -- and they get a nice five-year payment plan to pay it off," he said.
Vance noted she could only approve the plea deal or reject it, which would allow BP to change its plea to not guilty and go to trial, where the outcome would be uncertain and the maximum financial penalties lower.
She noted company officials have yet to face criminal charges in the case. As part of its five-year term of probation, BP has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department's Deepwater Horizon criminal task force.
Vance said the family members' testimony "brings home the gravity of BP's conduct," the Chronicle said.
"I understand how bad this conduct is," she said. "I want you to know you have my sympathy."
But, she said later, "The court finds the proposed plea agreement is a reasonable disposition."
The Times-Picayune said BP has already paid out $24.2 billion in accident and spill-related expenditures through the third quarter of 2012, with the total expected to eventually reach $42 billion, including the criminal fines.
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