British oil giant BP agreed Thursday to pay $18.7 billion to settle the damage claims from the worst oil spill ever in the United States, BP's massive 2010 oil drilling blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
In an agreement reached with the U.S. Justice Department and five Gulf coast states along the country's southern shores, BP said it would pay about $1 billion a year over the next 18 years.
The blowout 1.6 kilometers below the surface set off an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people and immolated the rig. Over several weeks, more than three million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf before authorities were finally able to cap the well.
Earlier this year, a U.S. judge in New Orleans near the site of the spill concluded that the oil company had acted with "gross negligence" in its operation of the well.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that if the deal is eventually approved by a court that has been hearing damage claims in the case, the settlement would be the largest ever in the U.S. with a single entity. She said the payments would help repair environmental damage to the Gulf Coast economy, fisheries, wetlands and wildlife.
In addition to Thursday's settlement, BP says that its spill-related costs already have exceeded $42 billion, including $4.5 billion in criminal penalties.