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Transocean Ltd., which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon deepwater drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico during the spring and summer of 2010, filed a legal motion on Tuesday asking the federal court in New Orleans to let the company off the hook for costs related to the cleanup of the roughly 4.9 million barrels of oil that escaped from the well into the gulf last year. Transocean says that energy giant BP PLC, which hired it to drill the well, indemnified it against pollution-related costs if a spill occurred underwater.  BP hired Transocean to drill the well in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP has set aside about $41 billion to pay for environmental cleanup, compensation and penalties, but is seeking to get others involved in the spill to share the costs. Earlier this year, it sued Transocean, seeking $40 billion in damages, and has sued Halliburton Co., which also performed work on the doomed well. The suit against Halliburton is also still pending.

Transocean says contractors would be unable to get insurance if BP's legal effort prevails. The result, it says, would "devastate the industry" and force companies to stop working on offshore wells. BP disagrees and says the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this well wouldn't affect broader working ties.

BP has managed to get its equity partners in the well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Mitsui & Co., to pay $5.1 billion for their share in costs. These companies dropped their lawsuits against each other after reaching these settlements. (WSJ, 1/2/2011, Photo Courtesy AP)