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BP Oil Spill Trial To Determine Damages Set For January; Fines Could Top $17 Billion

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Activists holds signs during a protest in front of the Hale Boggs Federal Building on the first day of the trial over the Deep Water Horizon oil rig spill on February 25, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. | Sean Gardner via Getty Images

HOUSTON, April 22 (Reuters) - The high-stakes penalty phase of BP's trial over its role in the 2010 U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil spill will start next January, court officials said on Tuesday, and billions of dollars could be on the line.

Fines under the Clean Water Act could top $17 billion, an amount more than BP's profit in 2013, which after items was $13.4 billion.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans has considerable leeway and could assess a much smaller fine after the third and likely final stage of the trial, which will assess the environmental impact of the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. The third phase will run from Jan. 20 to Feb. 5 of 2015.

The trial's first phase dealt with the issue of negligence and concluded last April. The second phase of the trial, which ended last October, focused on estimating how many million barrels of oil leaked from the blown out Macondo well for 87 days after the accident that killed 11 workers. Findings from the first two phases will affect the size of the fines.

BP has set aside more than $42 billion in provisions for cleanup, compensation and fines since the spill.

Separately on Tuesday, the British major said it had agreed to sell interests in four, mature BP-operated oilfields and related pipelines on the North Slope of Alaska to the production company Hilcorp as it works to invest in new opportunities there. (Reporting By Terry Wade)

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