Transocean Sued by U.S. Agency Over Gulf-Rig Blast Subpoenas

A Transocean Ltd. unit was sued by a U.S. agency for its allegedly inadequate response to requests for information related to the April 2010 sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean Deepwater Drilling didn’t fully comply with “38 of 39 specific demands” in five subpoenas issued between Nov. 24, 2010, and April 7, 2011, Donald Holmstrom, an investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, said in a sworn statement filed today in Houston federal court. The board is seeking to force the drilling contractor to comply with its requests.

The Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank while drilling a well for BP Plc off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and causing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The board has been investigating the incident since June 2010.

“Transocean’s ongoing failure to provide information has impeded and delayed the CSB’s critical safety inquiry,” Holmstrom said.

Transocean “produced a number of responsive documents” under subpoenas issued by the board between July and August 2010, Holmstrom said. When the agency sought additional documents and answers to “11 specific interrogatories,” Transocean either refused to respond or provided an insufficient response, he said.

‘No Jurisdiction’

Lou Colasuonno, a spokesman for Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean, said the company’s lawyers advised the CSB in July of its position that the Deepwater Horizon investigation should be left to the U.S. Coast Guard.

“The Chemical Safety Board has no jurisdiction over marine spills,” Colasuonno said in a phone interview.

Holmstrom said the information is “critical” to the board’s analysis of the blast.

“Transocean’s production of information in compliance with these subpoenas is required to evaluate Transocean’s internal safety culture, managerial decision making and incident response mechanisms,” he said. “The CSB also seeks information from Transocean to determine what role human factors may have played in the events leading up to the blowout and explosion.”

Any move to force Transocean to comply with the subpoena would bring a formal challenge to “the CSB’s authority and jurisdiction to investigate this matter,” Rachel Clingman, a company lawyer, said in a July 13 letter to the CSB, which Colasuonno provided.

While Transocean shared some incident information with the board as a courtesy, “the company will continue to refrain from formally responding” to CSB subpoenas, Clingman said.

The case is U.S. v. Transocean Deepwater Drilling Inc., 4:11-cv-3638, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

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