You are hereWall St. Journal: Spill Draws Criminal Probe

Wall St. Journal: Spill Draws Criminal Probe


June 2, 2010- The U.S. has launched criminal and civil investigations into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill—the latest move by the Obama administration to show it is taking aggressive action amid bipartisan criticism of its response to the disaster.

"We have what we think is a sufficient basis for us to have begun a criminal investigation," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday after meeting in New Orleans with state attorneys general and federal prosecutors from the region. Mr. Holder noted that 11 people died in the April 20 rig accident that precipitated the spill.

In a press conference, Mr. Holder said there is "a wide range of possible violations." He declined to specify the target of the investigation because he said authorities aren't "clear on who should ultimately be held liable" and didn't want to "cast aspersions."

The Justice Department is looking for violations of some of the same environmental laws that Exxon was charged with breaching during its 1989 Valdez spill in Alaska, among other criminal laws.

The government's move turned up the heat on BP Plc as the British oil giant's shares came under pressure over its mounting woes, plunging 13% in trading.

A BP spokesman said Tuesday the company "will cooperate with any inquiries that the Department of Justice undertakes, just as we are doing in response to the other inquiries that are already ongoing."

Transocean Ltd., the BP contractor that owned the doomed rig, said in a statement that it is continuing to cooperate with all relevant authorities, adding: "We have not been named in any criminal investigation and we will not speculate on actions the Justice Department may or may not take."

The Dept. of Justice is walking a fine line since potential parties under investigation are crucial in the cleanup efforts. Mr. Holder said that he believes parties that might be probed such as BP, however, have an incentive to redouble their cleanup efforts since they would likely want to "mitigate whatever damages they have caused."

Mr. Holder's Tuesday statement is the latest move by the Obama administration to challenge BP, even as it relies on the oil giant for the technology to stop the spill. The White House has come under fire from Democrats and Republicans for its response to the disaster, and for relying too heavily on BP to control information about the spill and the technology to fight it.

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