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Transocean seeks to block CSB Gulf of Mexico oil-spill probe

16 April 2012

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which investigates chemical explosions, launched its first offshore investigation shortly after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico explosion killed 11 workers and spewed more than 4 million barrels of crude into the sea. However, Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, says the agency has no jurisdiction to obtain access to blast survivors, internal records and other information, as other agencies investigate oil spills.

Transocean says the CSB has no jurisdiction to investigate the Macondo incident
Transocean says the CSB has no jurisdiction to investigate the Macondo incident

The CSB also has never investigated offshore incidents before, the company argued. 

“The CSB lacks jurisdiction to investigate the Macondo incident,” Steven Roberts, one of Transocean’s lawyers, said in a court filing before US District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston.

Assistant US Attorney Adam Goldman said the CSB has jurisdiction because its probe focuses on the blowout and explosion, rather than the spill.

Rosenthal was expected to rule at a later date.

The CSB says that other companies involved with the Macondo well blow out, including BP, Halliburton, Schlumberger and blowout preventer manufacturer Cameron International Corp, were all cooperating with the agency's probe.

Other spill investigations completed last year include a probe by the US Coast Guard and the US Interior Department, which put most of the blame on BP for the disaster.

The CSB began investigating the April 20, 2010, blowout in June of that year, at the request of several representatives of the US Congress. A year later, Transocean’s lawyers told the agency it should leave any investigation to the Environmental Protection Agency or the Coast Guard, which has authority over marine spills.

CSB counters that it is investigating the deadly explosion, not the oil spill that followed. CSB and Transocean also disagree on whether the Deepwater Horizon, as a floating drilling rig, should be considered a vessel or a stationary installation. Transocean said the rig is a vessel, which would place it outside of CSB’s investigative reach. The agency said it considers it a stationary installation because the rig was attached to the sea floor by several miles of drill pipe and seabed-based equipment at the time of the blast.

BP, which has acknowledged statutory responsibility for the oil spill, sued Transocean and other contractors on the Macondo project over actions BP claims helped cause the blast. Both London-based BP and Transocean face potentially billions of dollars in fines for alleged violations of US pollution laws in the incident.

Reader's comment and response:


I find this article intriguing as the CSB investigate in a manner that allows the wider industry to learn from incidents that have occurred so that the industry can become safer. In a lot of the investigations they have undertaken you will see how they have been able to piece together the multiple issues that lead to the incident occurring and show how if any one of those was addressed it would not have occurred as the bigger problem would have been identified. Out of all the bodies concerned Transocean should be less concerned with the CSB if they have nothing to hide and only something to learn.

Colin Murphy
Technical Safety Advisor
The Core Safety Group
PO Box 20508
New Zealand
Mobile: +64 (21) 425 608

Editor's response:

Yes indeed, the Transocean/CSB spat is an interesting one. Transocean's case on the surface is understandable - after half-a-dozen major investigations, how many more have to happen? But then, as you say, CSB's methodology could well lead to useful feedback for Transocean and the industry.

Who is responsible for what within a regulatory system is an increasingly hot issue in the USA, but also in the Europe and elswhere. It seems to me we have to ensure there is the best possible investigation into incidents with the most far-reaching conclusions, but also that there is as little as possible duplication of scarce regulatory and investigative resource.

This is an interesting and important area of discussion - the more feedback we get at HazardEx the better. Thanks for your contribution!


One of the interesting things to look at is that this industry is a global one and hence I think needs global Controls no matter where they operate or who the companies involved are. The work currently being done in the IEC Standards Arena is part of the solution but it needs to include things like:
· the broader environmental controls etc. that are being looked at by the UK and other European Regulators which I’ve attached: plus 
· a consistent approach to investigations like the CSB are doing but operating internationally like the aviation accident investigation system.

This could be something that the UN could look at as a project like the Model Hazardous Area Regulations they have just developed by the UNECE.

Lorenza who I’ve copied in could explain how the Model Hazardous area regulations were developed.
I hope this will assists.


Editor's response: 

We cover the recent IECEx conference in Dubai in the May edition of Hazardous Area International, with special contributions from Chris Agius and Lorenza.

The adoption of IECEx by the UAE is an important step towards international acceptance, and we will be reporting on any further expansion worldwide in future editions.

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