US seeks approval of Transocean Gulf spill settlement

The U.S. government asked a federal judge Wednesday to give final approval to a $1 billion settlement with Swiss drilling contractor Transocean over civil penalties stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Lawyers for the government said in a court filing in New Orleans that during a public comment period on the proposed consent decree there were only three submissions. Two came from environmental advocacy groups who were seeking greater citizen oversight of the terms of the deal and one came from BP, which wanted some of the wording in the decree changed.

The government says it and Transocean have agreed to change the wording that BP requested. The revised wording says Transocean can’t use any payments related to the civil penalty as a basis for indemnity or reimbursement from any other defendant named in the decree or any corporate affiliates of the defendants. BP, one of the defendants in the ongoing civil case, was seeking to protect its interests and that of its affiliates.

The government said the advocacy groups’ comments shouldn’t stand in the way of approval of the agreement.

“The proposed decree is fair, reasonable, adequate and consistent with the purposes of the Clean Water Act,” the filing says.

The catastrophe started when a well a mile beneath the sea blew out about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The blowout caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, which later sank. Eleven rig workers were killed. The resulting spill was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Transocean owned the rig and was leasing it to BP, which was the majority owner of the well that blew out.

In a deal with the Justice Department announced last month, Transocean agreed to the $1 billion civil penalty to resolve most civil claims from the federal government and a $400 million criminal penalty to resolve a single misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act. Transocean is set to plead guilty in the criminal case on Feb. 14.

A civil trial that will seek to assign percentages of fault to the companies involved in the disaster is scheduled to begin  Feb. 25.

BP pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges, including manslaughter, on Jan. 29 and was ordered to pay a $4 billion criminal penalty it negotiated with the government. It has not yet reached a civil settlement with government over the amount of oil that spilled.

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Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the legal trials surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:

BP suspended from new federal contracts (Feb. 5)
BP completes $2.4B sale of Texas City refinery (Feb. 1)
Guilty: BP admits to causing deaths in spill disaster (Jan. 29)
Some parties appeal spill settlement ruling (Jan. 25)
BP, Justice Department say Gulf plea deal fair and appropriate (Jan. 16)
Judge gets sentence recommendation for BP (Jan. 14)
Rig victim’s widow says Gulf disaster caused ‘inferno of grief’ (Jan. 11)
Transocean to pay government $1.4B to settle fed’s spill claims (Jan. 3)
Government accuses BP of being evasive on Gulf spill flow rate (Dec. 28)
Judge approves BP class action settlement (Dec. 21)