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January 3, 2013

Feds, Transocean reach $1.4B deal over Gulf spill

(Continued)

NEW ORLEANS —

Transocean previously announced it had reserved $2 billion for paying claims related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, said the $1 billion civil penalty is a record amount for an environmental case. But he expressed surprise that Transocean isn't paying more in criminal penalties or facing manslaughter charges of its own.

"The Justice Department clearly views BP as the most culpable party in the criminal cases," Uhlmann said. "But Transocean's negligence also is responsible for the workers' deaths and the spill."

Transocean also said in a September regulatory filing that it had rejected settlement offers last year from BP and a group of attorneys for Gulf Coast residents and businesses who blame the spill for economic damages. Those claims are still pending.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans gave final approval to a class-action settlement agreement between BP and a team of private plaintiffs' attorneys. BP estimates it will pay about $7.8 billion to resolve these claims, but the settlement isn't capped.

Barbier also is set to preside over a trial designed to identify the causes of BP's deadly well blowout and assign percentages of fault to the companies involved. The first phase of the trial is scheduled to start Feb. 25.

BP reported profits of more than $25 billion in 2011, but for Transocean the year resulted in a loss of about $5.7 billion, some of it attributed to contingencies for litigation resulting from the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon.

A series of government investigations has spread out the blame for the nation's worst offshore oil spill among BP, Transocean and other partners on the project, including cementing contractor Halliburton.

Halliburton hasn't settled with the Justice Department, BP or Transocean.

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