A former BP Plc manager charged with violating U.S. pollution law over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was cleared by a New Orleans jury, thwarting federal prosecutors’ last chance to jail someone over the disaster.
Robert Kaluza, a well-site manager who wasn’t on duty at the time it exploded, was the last defendant remaining under prosecution over the spill. Kaluza faced as long as a year in prison plus fines if convicted.
Kaluza, charged with a single misdemeanor count of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act, had previously beaten more serious charges.
The blowout of BP’s Macondo well in April 2010 set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Eleven men were killed and crude gushed from the well for almost three months as BP scrambled to cap it.
The U.S. claimed that Kaluza’s negligence was a contributing factor to the blowout and subsequent pollution. Kaluza denied responsibility for the disaster. The jury deliberated for less than two hours before acquitting him.
“We’re just pleased and thankful that the jury carefully considered the evidence and came to a just verdict,” Kaluza’s lawyers said in a joint statement Thursday.
Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on the verdict.
In the wake of the spill, BP pleaded guilty and agreed in 2012 to pay $4 billion for multiple counts, including manslaughter. Only four employees, including Kaluza, were prosecuted. No one in BP’s onshore chain of command for the well was charged and no individual so far has gone to jail.
The only conviction at trial, over mishandling evidence after the spill, was overturned, with the defendant, Kurt Mix, later pleading guilty to a minor charge. David Rainey, the highest-ranking BP executive charged, was acquitted of downplaying spill-size estimates.