Transocean settlement of Gulf spill heads to court

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Associated Press

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 10 at 10:32 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Transocean Ltd. made an initial court appearance Wednesday for its plea agreement with the Justice Department over the company's role in the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

At a brief hearing before a federal magistrate in New Orleans, Transocean attorneys didn't enter a plea on the company's behalf to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act.

Transocean has agreed to pay $400 million in criminal penalties, plead guilty to the charge and pay $1 billion in civil penalties. It isn't expected to enter the plea until next month.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has scheduled a Feb. 14 hearing to decide whether to accept the criminal settlement. Milazzo only presides over the criminal settlement. A different judge will decide whether to accept Transocean's civil settlement with the federal government.

Transocean can withdraw from its plea deal if Milazzo rejects it.

Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which sank after an explosion killed 11 workers and triggered the spill. BP PLC leased the rig from Transocean. The April 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo well spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, making it the nation's worst offshore spill.

Much of the $1.4 billion that Transocean agreed to pay will fund environmental restoration projects and spill-prevention research and training.

BP PLC, which leased the rig from Transocean, separately has agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the spill. The deal with BP doesn't resolve the federal government's civil claims against the London-based oil company.

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