By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - BP Plc does not have to face U.S. lawsuits by energy and drilling companies over losses they suffered from an offshore drilling ban imposed soon after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans agreed with BP that federal law absolved the British oil company from liability for the Obama administration's decision to halt drilling and impose a moratorium on permits for new wells.
The decision issued late on Thursday removes one of BP's last legal overhangs from the April 20, 2010 blowout of its Macondo well and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, a disaster that killed 11 workers.
BP has incurred $55.5 billion of costs for the spill, according to a March 4 regulatory filing by the company.
Barbier agreed with BP that the company's liability was limited to economic losses from the spill itself, despite there being "no doubt" that the permit moratorium would not have been imposed had the spill not happened.
The judge found no sign that Congress meant to hold companies such as BP "liable for the financial consequences of subsequent government actions aimed at preventing similar tragedies," Barbier wrote.
It took more than a year for permit approvals to return to pre-spill levels.
Steve Herman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond on Friday to requests for comment. BP spokesman Geoff Morrell declined to comment.
BP still faces a class-action lawsuit by investors claiming that their American depositary shares lost value after the company initially concealed the spill's severity.
A trial is scheduled for July 5 in Houston, court records show.
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 in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)