You haven’t seen much about it in the press yet, but BP has the benefit of a cap that will probably limit its liability for the oil spill in the Gulf. Section 1004 of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), passed into law in August 1990 after the Exxon Valdez incident, limits the liability of holders of leases or permits for offshore facilities to $75 million per spill, plus removal costs.
The Act also limits the liability for tank vessels larger than 3,000 gross tons to $1,200 per gross ton or $10 million, whichever is greater and the liability for responsible parties at onshore facilities and deepwater ports to $350 million per spill.
The Act also created the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The primary source of revenue for the fund was a five-cents per barrel fee on imported and domestic oil. Collection of this fee ceased on December 31, 1994 due to a "sunset" provision in the law. Other revenue sources for the fund include interest on the fund, cost recovery from the parties responsible for the spills, and any fines or civil penalties collected. The Fund is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC).