NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that BP PLC and one of its minority partners in the blown-out Macondo well are liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act for their roles in the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier also ruled that Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean Ltd. may be liable under the same law as an "operator" of the well. The judge, however, said he couldn't decide before a trial scheduled to start Monday whether Transocean meets the definition of that term.
The Justice Department argued that BP, minority partner Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Transocean are each liable for per-barrel civil penalties for oil discharged from the well.
Barbier also ruled that BP and Anadarko — but not Transocean — are "responsible parties" under the Oil Pollution Act for oil that flowed from beneath the surface of the water.
Transocean called the ruling a "vital win."
"This decision states clearly that BP is the responsible party and reaffirms the long-standing legal, regulatory and economic framework that has been employed by parties in the offshore oil and gas industry for decades," the company said in a statement.
In response to the ruling, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo noted that the company already has paid out billions of dollars in claims to individuals, businesses and governments.
"Long before this motion and its resolution today, BP had committed to paying all legitimate claims and helping economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast," Beaudo said. "BP continues to stand behind that commitment."
Anadarko, which owned a 25 percent share in the well, agreed last year to pay $4 billion to BP as part of a settlement.