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BP Staff May Face Criminal Charges

Dept. of Justice still investigating Gulf Coast oil spill

HOUSTON -- U.S. prosecutors are preparing what would be the first criminal charges against BP Plc staff after the worst U.S. oil spill last year, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Prosecutors are focused on whether some BP employees, including several Houston-based engineers and at least one supervisor, provided false information to regulators about the risks linked to the drilling of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, the newspaper reported. Department of Justice officials said in September that they are looking at whether BP failed to properly report changes in key pressure measurement during the drilling process. Felony charges could be filed in early 2012, according to the WSJ report. Conviction on such charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison, as well as a fine.

The Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion killed 11 people and resulted in an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Legal experts say BP itself is expected to face broader criminal charges, including violations of the federal Clean Water Act, according to the report. The company already is appealing what could amount to $36.6 million in administrative fines levied by U.S. regulators for safety violations.

BP spokesmen declined to comment on the report. The company has said it believed the accident was caused by a combination of events that involved multiple parties, not just BP, according to the report.

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