Cameron Can't Delay Retrieval of Oil Rig Blowout Preventer, Judge Rules

Cameron International Corp. lost a bid to delay removal of the blowout preventer, a key piece of safety equipment linked to the BP oil spill, from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig.

Cameron, the maker of the equipment, said retrieval plans by the Unified Command, a joint oil-spill response effort of the U.S. Coast Guard and BP Plc, risked losing or altering material evidence. Cameron asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to postpone retrieval to allow photographing and recording current conditions in the blowout preventer.

A delay would interfere with continuing well-control operations, Barbier said yesterday in denying the motion. National Incident Commander Thad Allen and the Unified Command already considered opening a part of the blowout preventer and decided against delaying removal, Barbier said.

“The Unified Command and the FBI were also concerned about the preservation of evidence crucial to the incident investigation,” Barbier said in a decision posted with the New Orleans federal court today. “However, such concerns were secondary to securing the well so as to prevent further oil spill.”

Government investigators and companies involved in the April 20 explosion want to examine the rig’s blowout preventer, a stack of valves designed to shut off the flow of oil and gas during a pressure surge, to look for clues to the cause of the drilling disaster.

Last Line of Defense

The preventer, the last line of defense against an uncontrolled well blowout, malfunctioned and failed to stop the surge of natural gas that caught fire and destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 workers and triggering the world’s biggest accidental offshore oil spill.

Barbier is overseeing hundreds of lawsuits over the oil spill, consolidated in federal court in New Orleans. The lawsuits name as defendants BP, owner of the oil lease, Transocean Ltd., owner of the rig, as well as Cameron and others.

The U.S., BP and other defendants disagree on how to conduct the examination of the blowout preventer once it’s retrieved and where it should be housed following its removal from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Barbier said last week he would delay a decision on where the evidence would be held to allow for the shipping and temporary storage of the blowout preventer on a barge at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility in eastern New Orleans.

The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, 2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net; Allen Johnson Jr. in New Orleans at allenmct@gmail.com.

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