A federal judge on Tuesday said Halliburton Co is not liable for some pollution claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, setting back BP Plc's effort to hold other companies responsible for part of the $42 billion cleanup.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans said BP must indemnify Halliburton, which provided cementing services for the Macondo oil well, for third-party compensatory claims under their contract, even if Halliburton is found grossly negligent.
The indemnification relates to claims arising from pollution or contamination that did not originate from Halliburton property located above the land or water.
Halliburton would still be responsible for punitive damages, as well as civil fines under the federal Clean Water Act.
"This is a very positive step for Halliburton, however outstanding issues still remain," wrote Angie Sedita, a UBS Securities LLC analyst who has a "buy" rating on that company. "The claim of fraud against Halliburton and thus a breach of contract does appear to leave an open issue in the court's eyes."
Barbier issued a similar ruling on January 26 that required BP to indemnify Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, on compensatory damages claims.
That ruling meant BP could not shift more than $15 billion of costs for the spill.
BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said the Halliburton decision sends a "strong signal" that contractors involved in critical well operations will be held accountable. He said it means BP's indemnity "could be void" if Halliburton committed fraud.
Halliburton spokeswoman Beverly Stafford said that company agrees with Tuesday's decision "to the extent that it requires BP to honor its contractual indemnity obligations."
Barbier oversees multidistrict litigation over the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.
The accident caused 11 deaths and the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Barbier has set a February 27 start date for a bench trial to apportion blame.
Halliburton is based in Houston, and BP in London.
Halliburton shares closed up 11 cents to $36.78, and BP's American depositary receipts rose $1.77, or 4.01 percent, to $45.91.
The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-md-02179.
(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel; editing by John Wallace and Carol Bishopric)