BPs $4.5 billion settlement of federal criminal charges announced Thursday is a record amount, and a significant sum of money.
Looked at another way, its less than the $5.5 billion in profit the British oil giant made between June and September of this year.
BP is not fully past the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the 2010 explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The company has so far set aside $42 billion to pay fines and damages resulting from the spill, and that amount may yet grow.
But the company is steadily resolving the spills legal issues and has nearly met its target for asset sales to help pay for the spills costs. In the process, BP PLC has reshaped itself into a somewhat smaller company but one thats still a large and profitable force in the oil industry.
The danger is not over, Christine Tiscareno an analyst at S&P Capital IQ in London. But they are now a step closer to moving beyond the disaster.
The biggest obstacle is a trial set for February in New Orleans to determine BPs civil liability. If a court finds that BP was grossly negligent in causing the spill, fines could be billions more than the company has estimated.
For instance, BP has reserved $3.51 billion for possible civil fines under the Clean Water Act.
But a bill signed into law in July by President Barack Obama would allow up to $17.6 billion in civil fines maybe $21 billion depending on definitions of how much oil actually spilled into the Gulf said Environmental Law Institute attorneys Jordan Diamond and Jay Austin.
Tiscareno thinks the criminal settlement helps BP argue that it was not grossly negligent. It adds to their chest of ammunition, she said.
The settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, includes payments of nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences and about $500 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused BP of misleading investors by lowballing the amount of crude that was spilling.
It also includes nearly $1.3 billion in fines.
Three BP employees were charged, two of them with manslaughter. The company will plead guilty to charges involving the 11 deaths and lying to Congress about how much oil was spewing from the blown-out well.
This marks the largest single criminal fine and the largest total criminal resolution in the history of the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference in New Orleans. He said much of the money will be used to restore the Gulf.
BP does not expect the settlement to affect its work in the Gulf. It said Thursday that no federal agencies have indicated an intention to suspend or disbar the company, something thats permitted after a criminal conviction.
Even though BP is smaller, revenue and profits have kept flowing, thanks to higher oil prices. The company earned $25.8 billion last year on revenue of $377 billion eclipsing the companys previous record profit of $22.2 from 2005 and its previous record revenue of $361 billion in 2008.
But investors are likely to remain cautious until next years civil case is resolved. BPs shares traded near $60 before the spill, then fell to as low as $27 in the months after. They closed Thursday at $40.28.
Still, shareholders value the company at $128 billion, making BP the fourth biggest investor-owned oil and gas company in the world.