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BP, Halliburton and Transocean Ltd are contesting charges that were issued by U.S. regulators in response to the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010 and the ensuing oil spill. The Interior Department last year issued citations saying all the firms violated federal rules, leading to the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

Charges were expected for BP, but the "incidents of noncompliance" given to Halliburton and Transocean surprised the oil industry. Contractors hired by a well's owner typically escape liability in such situations.

The citations will likely serve as the foundation for future fines from U.S. officials. Their significance, however, lies in the fact that they could be used in lawsuits that seek to assign blame for the oil spill.  The appeals will be reviewed by a panel of administrative judges known as the Interior Board of Land Appeals. (WSJ, 1/6/2012)