NEW ORLEANS -- The British oil company BP said Thursday it will plead guilty to 11 felony counts over the death of workers in the 2010 Gulf oil rig blowout and will pay $4.5 billion in a settlement with the federal government over the massive oil spill.
Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to join federal and local officials in New Orleans later Thursday for an announcement on the terms of the deal, which is still subject to court approvals.
The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 workers and set off a spill that continued for 87 days, fouling large areas of the Gulf Coast of the United States.
The $4.5 billion fine would dwarf the largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Department of Justice - the $1.2 billion fine imposed on drug maker Pfizer in 2009.
The criminal settlement between BP and the federal government is just one of a slew of lawsuits and settlements facing the British energy company for their role in the oil spill, said Blaine LeCesne, an associate law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who has been closely following the case.
Even after Thursday's announcement, BP still faces fines from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws, payouts to thousands of fishermen and businesses hurt by the spill, fines under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process and payouts to impacted states, he said.
Those fines and settlements could total more than $40 billion if BP is found "grossly negligent" by a federal judge, LeCesne said. A federal judge in New Orleans will hear a trial to assess fault in the case in late February, he said.
"BP is facing a very daunting potential financial bill for the remainder of this case," LeCesne said.
BP has booked provisions of $38.1 billion to cover its liabilities from the incident, but the company has said the final cost remained highly uncertain. BP also recently announced that it expects to make the final payment this year to a $20 billion trust fund to cover damage from the blowout.
In March, BP announced a settlement estimated at $7.8 billion with more than 100,000 individuals and businesses for medical and economic losses.
In January 2011, a U.S. presidential commission found that the spill was caused by time-saving, cost-cutting decisions by BP rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton.
In September last year, a team of Coast Guard officials and federal regulators concluded BP bears ultimate responsibility. Their report found BP violated U.S. regulations, ignored crucial warnings and made bad decisions during the cementing of the well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico.