BP’s maximum penalty for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster could be $13.7 billion – about $4 billion less than anticipated and less than what the U.S. government wanted.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, New Orleans, ruled Jan. 15 that the disaster unleashed 3.19 million bbl. of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The government claimed a discharge of 4.19 million bbl., while BP estimated 2.45 million, court documents show.

The amount is critical because of the potential fine, which will be determined in the next phase of the trial expected to begin Tuesday, Jan. 20. Under the Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties of $1,100 bbl. can rise to $4,300 when the spill results from gross negligence.

Last year, the judge found BP guilty of gross negligence and willful misconduct in the accident that killed 11 people and spewed oil for nearly three months. In his latest ruling, the judge said BP was not grossly negligent in its response to the spill, noting “a major factor in this determination is the fact that BP’s source control plan complied with federal regulations and industry practice.”

BP said in a statement that the court is required to consider a number of factors in calculating the fine including efforts to minimize the spill, the economic impact of the penalty on the company and “any history of certain types of prior violations…. BP believes that considering all the statutory penalty factors together weighs in favor of a penalty at the lower end of the statutory range.”

The judge’s decision is available at: https://ecf.laed.uscourts.gov/doc1/08517519253