NEWORLEANS - Transocean Ltd. is scheduled to make an initial court appearance in New Orleans Wednesday for its plea agreement with the Justice Department over the company's role in the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean has agreed to pay $400 million in criminal penalties and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act. The Switzerland-based company also agreed to pay $1 billion in civil penalties.

The $1.4 billion settlement between Transocean and the United States Justice Department could mean hundreds of millions of dollars for the Gulf Coast. Congress ruled that 80 percent of the penalty money would be dedicated to environmental and economic recovery projects in the states impacted by the spill.

As part of the settlement, Transocean agreed to improve operational safety and the emergency response program on its drilling rigs.

The company isn't expected to enter its guilty plea until February. U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has scheduled a Feb. 14 hearing to decide whether to accept the criminal settlement.

Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which sank after an explosion killed 11 workers and spawned the spill. London-based oil giant BP PLC leased the rig from Transocean.

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