(Adds background on previous spills, Alaska state lawsuit)
WASHINGTON, March 31 The U.S. government has
filed a civil complaint against BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc
(BP.L)(BP.N) alleging that the Alaska-based company violated
U.S. clean air and water laws, the U.S. Justice Department said
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage,
accuses BPXA of illegally discharging more than 200,000 gallons
of crude oil from its pipelines in Prudhoe Bay onto the North
Slope of Alaska during two major oil spills in the spring and
summer of 2006.
The complaint also alleges that BPXA failed to prepare and
implement adequate spill prevention measures required under the
Clean Water Act.
"We have taken significant steps to ensure that our
operations are safe and reliable, and protect the environment,"
said BP Exploration Alaska spokesman Steve Rinehart.
BPXA is a wholly owned subsidiary of BP America, a unit of
The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department on behalf of
the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of
Transportation, asks the court to order BPXA to take
appropriate action to prevent spills in the future.
The government is also seeking the highest amount of civil
penalties possible by law, the Justice Department said.
The biggest oil spill-related civil penalty in Alaska to
date was the $900 million settlement struck by Exxon Corp, now
part of oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), and the U.S. and
Alaska governments in 1991 for the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster,
the nation's worst tanker spill.
The fine was paid out over a period of 10 years to a
state-federal organization to fund restoration and
environmental research on Alaska's affected Prince William
That 1991 settlement also included a $125 million payment
from Exxon and Exxon Shipping to settle criminal charges
stemming from the spill.
The U.S. Justice Department in late 2007 settled criminal
charges against BP that stemmed from the pipeline spill, part
of a wider settlement that also included charges related to a
fatal fire in 2005 at the company's refinery in Texas City,
Texas, and propane-market manipulations by BP futures traders
Under the 2007 criminal settlement, BP paid $20 million in
fines and restitution for the Prudhoe Bay spill after pleading
guilty to a sole violation of the Clean Water Act. The $20
million payment was considered high for a single misdemeanor
violation, but was set at that level because of BP's previous
record of criminal environmental violations on the North Slope,
federal officials said at the time.
The company in 1999 pleaded guilty to illegally dumping
hazardous waste at its Endicott oil field on the North Slope,
eventually paying $7 million in criminal and civil penalties
and serving five years' probation.
The state of Alaska also filed a lawsuit against BP on
Tuesday, relating to the 2006 oil spill, but did not specify a
Alaska's Department of Law said the state is requesting
penalties for environmental violations and "just compensation
for state revenues lost as a result of BPXA's negligent
corrosion prevention practices."
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen and Yereth Rosen; Editing by Gary
Hill and Bill Rigby)