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Chemical Safety Board’s Right To Probe Gulf Oil Rig Accident Questioned

Safety: Transocean accused of preventing progress of investigation

by Jeff Johnson
April 16, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 16

A federal judge in Houston heard allegations from Justice Department attorneys last week that Transocean, the owner and operator of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig, is blocking the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) from examining the April 2010 accident. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and resulted in the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Because of CSB’s expertise in investigating chemically related accidents, members of Congress asked the board to investigate the tragedy and to determine the accident’s cause and what could be done to avoid similar accidents in the future. However, CSB’s review has been stymied, and Transocean has not responded to CSB’s original request for information or to five subsequent subpoenas, the first of which CSB filed in November 2010.

Transocean says CSB lacks authority to investigate oil spills in marine waters. Instead, the company claims, the National Transportation Safety Board has investigative jurisdiction.

CSB argues that it is investigating not the spill but the working operations on the rig, such as safety systems, equipment design, worker fatigue, safety culture, and other process and working conditions. CSB believes it has authority through the Clean Air Act, which created the board.

After an hour-long hearing on April 11, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal took the case under advisement. It is unclear when a decision will be rendered.


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