SEATTLE (Reuters) - A federal judge ruled that BP was not negligent in the case of a 2009 oil spill and did not violate the terms of its probation from an earlier accident thus escaping further punishment.
The decision is a victory for the oil giant as it attempts to rebuild its image after taking the bulk of the blame for the largest U.S. offshore oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
Judge Ralph Beistline, in the U.S. District Court of Alaska, on Tuesday dismissed a petition from federal prosecutors that sought additional punishment for the company's latest Alaska spill, and released BP from its probation.
The decision comes one month after hearings in court in Anchorage, where prosecutors sought to revoke the criminal probation imposed on BP in a 2007 settlement agreement, claiming BP violated probationary terms by continuing its pattern of sloppy management, ultimately resulting in another pipeline spill in 2009.
Judge Beistline rejected that charge, saying that BP was not criminally negligent in the latest spill.
"Things could have been done differently that may, or may not, have prevented this spill," Beistline wrote in his decision. "But in the instant case, the court concludes, based on the evidence presented, that BP was following accepted industry practices at all relevant times and could not have reasonably expected a blowout..."
However, he warned BP to prevent further spills, saying that "the court would view the entire matter differently" if a similar spill occurred.
"It is incumbent upon BP to make sure this does not happen again," Beistline concluded.
(Reporting by Bill Rigby; editing by Bob Burgdorfer)