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Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd. were cleared of gross negligence for their roles in the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill, allowing the companies to avoid the harshest penalties from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled today that BP Plc, which owned the Macondo well, was “reckless” leading up to the accident, which killed 11 people and spewed oil for almost three months into waters that touch the shores of five states. Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and Halliburton, which provided cement services on the well, weren’t completely cleared of blame -- the judge assigned the companies 30 percent and 3 percent responsibility, respectively.

Barbier’s finding that Halliburton and Transocean were each negligent, and not grossly negligent, “right away limits the fines and penalties that they’re exposed to,” said Rob Desai, an analyst for Edward Jones in St. Louis.

BP had its biggest intraday drop in more than four years on the news, falling as much as 6.2 percent in London. Halliburton, based in Houston, initially rose on the news before falling back 0.3 percent to $67.40 at 11:52 a.m. in New York. Transocean also gained briefly and then dropped 0.1 percent to $37.99.

BP said it will appeal the ruling. Halliburton and Transocean had no immediate comment on the court’s decision.

“It’s bad news for BP and it’s much better news for everybody else,” David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former head of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes division.

Earlier this week, Halliburton agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle most of the lawsuits over its role in the disaster. Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean settled some government claims for $1.4 billion last year.

--With assistance from Zain Shauk in Houston.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Wethe in Houston at dwethe@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net Tina Davis, Robin Saponar

Bloomberg