WASHINGTON, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Now that BP Plc’s (BP.L)(BP.N) ruptured oil well has been cut off with concrete, the focus will turn to restoring the U.S. Gulf Coast and the mountain of legal issues the company will face. Here are some of the liabilities BP may face.
* The Justice Department is investigating the spill on a number of fronts, including criminal and civil violations of environmental laws that could lead to billions of dollars in fines.
For every barrel of oil that was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico -- the latest estimate is 4.1 million -- there could be a fine of $4,300 per barrel if gross negligence is found. That would equal a fine of $17.63 billion. If no gross negligence is found, the fine is up to $1,100 per barrel, or $4.5 billion.
There also could be additional fines for any harm to animals protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among other environmental laws.
So far more than 1,800 visibly oiled birds have been collected alive and more than 1,700 visibly oiled birds found dead. Additionally, more than 400 sea turtles have been found alive with visible oil and 17 dead.
Further, the Justice Department could bring additional criminal charges if investigators find anyone had engaged in obstruction of justice or made false statements.
This probe is not limited to BP, and could ensnare other companies that were part of the well drilling operations, including drill operator Transocean Ltd (RIG.N) and Halliburton Co (HAL.N) which did cement work.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has begun a preliminary probe into BP on two key matters. Investigators are examining whether people may have illegally profited from trading on nonpublic information at BP in the months since the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
They are also poring over the company’s securities filings to see if BP properly disclosed information on risks related to its deepwater oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
If any violations are found, the SEC can seek the return of ill-gotten gains as well as penalties and levy fines for failing to adequately disclose risks to shareholders.
BP has been the target so far of more than 300 lawsuits from private entities or individuals, ranging from fishermen barred from trolling the Gulf waters for their catches while oil spewed from the ruptured well to shareholders angry at the massive losses the company’s stock endured.
They also include class action lawsuits as well as personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Eleven workers on the Transocean rig died after the well explosion.
At one point after the April 20 incident BP shares traded in the United States had lost 55 percent of their value. They have since recovered some ground with the well capped and plugged, but the stock is still down 31 percent from when the well ruptured.
A federal judicial panel is expected to decide soon whether to consolidate many of the private lawsuits, filed in several states, and where to hear them.
BP has already set up a $20 billion escrow fund to pay claims from individuals and businesses affected by the oil spill. The fund will be administered by Kenneth Feinberg who oversaw other significant compensation funds.
Government entities will make their claims directly to BP.
BP has agreed to contribute $5 billion for each of the next four years and has set aside the funds. The company included the full $20 billion in its most recent income statement, while a large portion of the $32.2 billion charge the company took in the second quarter of 2010 related to the oil spill.
BP made a $3 billion deposit on the escrow fund on Aug 9.
In addition to that money, BP has allocated $100 million to support unemployed oil workers, sidelined as the Obama administration issued a moratorium that halted most exploratory deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company has also committed $500 million for a decade-long initiative in the Gulf aimed at improving the understanding of the effects of oil and gas pollution and ways to mitigate it.
BP said on Aug. 5 that it has paid out $303 million in claims to more than 40,000 individuals and businesses affected by the oil spill in the Gulf, more than 10 percent of that in the first five days of August.
Obama administration officials have said repeatedly no taxpayer money will be spent on the oil spill cleanup and recovery efforts, and so far the administration has sent bills totaling $221 million to BP and other responsible parties.
Part of the litigation that will likely ensue now that no more oil is flowing from the Macondo well is over whether the Obama administration finds others are also responsible for the massive spill. If there is more than one responsible party based on the findings of multiple investigations, more could be subject to fines and penalties.
BP has also started trying to recover some of the money it has spent on the cleanup and recovery efforts from its partners who helped drill the well and/or the well’s two co-owners, Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N) and Mitsui & Co Ltd (8031.T).
Anadarko has been billed $1.2 billion for its share of the cleanup by BP but the company has withheld payments so far. Mitsui has also been billed $480 million, but it has not yet decided whether it will pay.
That all will likely be subject to lengthy litigation and possibly negotiations that could take years. (Editing by Jerry Norton)