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BP contract 'shielded Halliburton'

A US judge has ruled that Halliburton can avoid paying most of the pollution claims that resulted from the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill because it was shielded in a contract with well owner BP.

However District Judge Carl Barbier said Halliburton was not exempt from paying punitive damages and civil penalties that arise from the April 20 2010 blow-out off the Louisiana coast, which could amount to billions of dollars.

The judge also said Halliburton's indemnity could be voided if the company was found to have defrauded BP. He did not rule on BP's claims that Halliburton committed fraud by declaring the cement safe to use.

Houston-based Halliburton supplied cement for the ill-fated Macondo well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and US government investigators have found that the cement failed to seal to the well properly.

The cement job was one of several factors that investigators said contributed to the blow-out that killed 11 workers and led to the release of more than 200 million gallons of oil.

In court filings, BP has accused Halliburton of hiding information about cement tests and defrauding BP by telling the company that the cement was safe to use. Halliburton says it did not conceal information or commit fraud.

Both sides claimed victory after the decision, with BP saying Judge Barbier's ruling was a "strong signal" that Transocean and Halliburton "would be held accountable".

"These two decisions should put an end to the attempts by Transocean and Halliburton to avoid their obligations," BP said. The company added that Halliburton "at a minimum" faced paying punitive damages and civil penalties for its role in the disaster.

Beverly Blohm Stafford, a Halliburton spokeswoman, said the company agreed with the ruling "to the extent that it requires BP to honour its contractual indemnity obligations".

The ruling came in advance of a February 27 non-jury maritime-law trial in New Orleans to determine who was at fault for the blow-out that led to the nation's largest offshore oil spill. Transocean, BP and Halliburton have been sparring over what caused the spill.

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