WSJ: BP, Justice Dept. near deal over Gulf spill

FILE - In this April 21, 2010 file photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, fire boat response crews spray water on the blazing remnants of BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.

BP and the Justice Department are close to a "broad" settlement of the oil giant's civil and criminal liabilities stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill disaster, the Wall Street Journal quotes people familiar with the talks as saying.

Talks have been going on for months, but momentum has picked up over the last two weeks, the paper says, adding that there are still "substantial" differences and there's still a chance the deal could "fizzle."

An agreement would resolve BP's largest remaining liability from the rig explosion that left 11 workers dead and set off the worst offshore oil spill ever in the U.S.

Billions of dollars that would go to the five states directly affected by the spill are in play in the negotiations.

BP reached an accord totaling roughly $7.8 billion in March to resolve its liability with what Reuters calls a "wide-ranging group that represents condominium owners, fishermen, hoteliers, restaurant owners and others who say their livelihood was damaged by the spill."

BP declined to comment to the Journal, and both BP and the Justice Department declined to comment to Reuters.

The newspaper says BP could be liable for $5.4 billion-$21 billion in civil penalties under the Clean Water Act alone as things stand now.

"The Justice Department has been talking tough in recent court filings," the Journal says. "U.S. attorneys accused BP of gross negligence in the rig explosion in an Aug. 31 filing in a civil case, in which the company has proposed a $7.8 billion settlement with a contingent of private plaintiffs.

"BP has taken a charge of $37.2 billion that it estimates is the maximum cost related to the accident, while pledging to raise $38 billion from asset sales by the end of 2013. The company has raised about $35 billion since the disaster," the newspaper says.