The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

By Margaret Cronin Fisk

(Bloomberg) — Transocean Ltd. won court approval of its $1 billion settlement with the U.S. of pollution claims stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil-rig explosion that triggered the biggest U.S. offshore spill.

Transocean said last month that it would pay $1.4 billion, including a $400 million criminal penalty, to settle federal claims it violated the U.S. Clean Water Act. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, who is overseeing lawsuits stemming from the spill, approved the $1 billion civil portion today.

Transocean was the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which burned and sank in April 2010 after BP Plc’s Macondo well exploded. The U.S. sued Vernier, Switzerland- based Transocean in 2010, alleging violations of pollution law. Under an agreement with the U.S., Transocean must establish a technology innovation group to focus on drilling safety, devoting at least $10 million to the effort.

The blowout and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers and spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil into the gulf.

The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against BP, Transocean and Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services for the project.

Guilty Plea

Transocean also agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act and consented to pay $400 million in criminal penalties. U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo last week gave final approval to the plea at a hearing in federal court in New Orleans.

BP pleaded guilty to 14 charges, including 12 felonies, agreeing to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties, as well as $525 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission claim that it underestimated the size of the spill. Civil U.S. pollution-law claims against London-based BP haven’t been settled.

A nonjury trial over fault for the disaster is scheduled to begin in federal court in New Orleans Feb. 25. Barbier will also determine whether any of the companies involved in drilling the well acted with gross negligence or reckless indifference.

BP reached a settlement with most non-government plaintiffs in March, agreeing to pay an estimated $8.5 billion.

The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). The criminal case is U.S. v. Transocean Deepwater Inc., 13-cr-001, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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