Transocean Must Give Rig Debris to Panel Investigating Fire, Judge Says

Transocean Ltd. must comply with a subpoena from a joint panel of the U.S. Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service that is investigating the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston today rejected the request by Transocean, the rig’s owner, to block the panel’s subpoena, which was approved by a different federal judge in New Orleans. Ellison is overseeing Transocean’s attempt to limit its liability related to the sunken rig.

Transocean’s lawyers said they feared turning over the rig’s work logs, records and physical debris would put it in violation of other court orders and a request by the U.S. Justice Department to preserve and maintain all evidence related to the disaster.

“The court has no intention of standing in the way of a government investigation,’’ Ellison said in the ruling.

The debris, which the company has been accumulating at a warehouse in coastal Louisiana, includes a 50-foot section of the marine riser pipe that was cut from the top of the damaged blowout preventer on the well.

Ellison said he wants all physical evidence preserved intact, as the Deepwater Horizon’s remnants are the asset whose value may set the upper limit of Transocean’s liability for claims over damages from the explosion and spill.

The company asked Ellison to use a 159-year-old maritime statute to cap its liability at $27 million, the value of the rig’s unpaid drilling rental fees at the time it exploded and sank in April.

The case is In Re. The Complaint and Petition of Triton Asset Leasing GmbH, 4:10-cv-01721, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

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