Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- As we approach the first anniversary of the BP well explosion and massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there are indications that the U.S. Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal charges.
Sources close to the investigation tell the Associated Press that manslaughter is among the possible offenses.
The blast killed 11 crew members.
About a month after the April 20, 2010 spill, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed the government would be looking at both civil and criminal liability on the part of BP and its contractors on the rig.
'There are federal charges which can include a wide range of things that happened both with regard to everything from birds who have been harmed, killed, the spill itself and then with regard to the untimely and tragic deaths of those 11 rig workers,' said Holder in New Orleans on June 1, 2010.
Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino said prosecutors have a heavy burden of proof in any homicide case.
'They need to prove some culpability on behalf of some individuals at the well, perhaps even corporate actors for ignoring known risks,' said Ciolino.
In January, a presidential commission found that the spill was caused in part by time-saving and money-saving decisions by BP.
Other reports blame a faulty cement job, crucial pressure tests that were ignored on the rig, and just last week, a testing firm hired by the government found that a blowout preventer that should have stopped the BP oil spill failed because of faulty design and a bent piece of pipe.
'Prosecutors are going to be looking to see whether or not these risks were apparent and known to well operators and then simply recklessly disregarded in an effort to press ahead,' said Ciolino.
Attorney Stuart Smith, who is suing on behalf of 1000 plaintiffs with claims against BP, said a successful criminal prosecution would bolster the civil cases.
'A finding of criminal fault or criminal responsibility is pretty much absolute evidence of negligence on the civil side,' said Smith.
While the investigation is still far from complete, sources say BP officials could also face perjury charges if statements made to Congress after the accident are found to be untruthful.