(MOBILE, Ala.) -- British Petroleum, the oil giant responsible for the largest environmental disaster in United States history, announced Thursday it would plead guilty to 14 federal charges and pay the government $4.5 billion for its role in the disaster. The settlement is the largest in U.S. History. For BP executives, it was a day of reckoning. "The company has pleaded guilty to criminal felony charges and manslaughter," United States Attorney General Eric Holder said from New Orleans. "Individuals have been charged as well. Everything we are capable of doing in the criminal sphere we have done today."
Two BP employees, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, who were well site leaders at the time of the incident, were indicted on manslaughter charges relating to the 11 men who died in the explosion aboard the Deep Water Horizon, federal documents unsealed Thursday showed. The company also plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Another company executive plead guilty to lying to Congress.
The April 2010 explosion sparked the spill that sent nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 85 days. From an underwater camera focused on the spill site, the world watched as an economy, environment and wildlife all became covered in crude.
BP will pay the fine, over a 5 year period. More than half will go toward helping Gulf states with restoration.
"It shows BP that they can't get away with this," said Mobile Bay Keepers Spokesperson Casi Callaway, "They can't continue to do this kind of risky behavior; put people, the economy, the environment at risk because they want to make a profit."
Bob Riley, Alabama's governor in 2012, learned of the settlement from reporters at an unrelated event. He took note of the immediate impact. "Not only do you keep it from happening again, but also you can get some relief for the economic damages that were caused over the last few years," he said.
It's that sentiment which helped fuel the Restore Act, legislation passed by Congress to ensure BP was held responsible for its actions. Congressman Jo Bonner led the way. "That's what we've been actually arguing for and begging for over the last several weeks is that we not ignore the intent of the Restore Act," Bonner said by phone from Washington.
What also can not be ignored are the lives lost in the explosion. Each of the victims were named in the 22 page indictment against Kaluza and Vidrine, including Jason Anderson, a husband and father of two. "The hardest part is going to Thanksgiving Feast at the elementary school, seeing the other dads that are there and [our daughter] knows that her dad can't be there," Anderson's widow Shelly told NBC News.
It's those families whose loss is the deepest; in a place where no money can cover.
"We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today's resolution with the U.S. government reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions," a portion of a statement from BP Groups Chief Executive Bob Dudley read.
The company still faces huge additional claims, including billions of dollars in civil penalties the government is seeking under the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. If BP is found guilty of gross negligence in the spill, the penalty could be around $20 billion.
A civil trial is set to begin in February and could last years. A judge in New Orleans is considering a separate $7.8 billion proposed settlement with more than 100,000 businesses and individuals who say they were harmed by the spill. BP says it has now paid nearly $42 billion in spill-related costs.
Kaluza and Vidrine are scheduled to be arraigned November 28 in federal court in New Orleans, records show.