Transocean’s Gulf Probe Help Questionable

Tuesday, April 5, 2011 @ 04:04 PM gHale

The question about whether Transocean wants to cooperate with a key federal investigation of last year’s Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill remains up in the air, according to the lead federal agency investigating the disaster.

In a letter to Transocean, Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, said the company has stonewalled on whether it would produce three subpoenaed employees to testify at hearings next week near New Orleans.

“In my judgment, this is less a legal issue than one of whether Transocean recognizes its moral and corporate responsibility to cooperate with an investigation into the causal factors of the most significant oil spill in United States history,” Bromwich wrote. “From my perspective, this is what is at stake with the attendance of the Transocean witnesses.”

A lawyer for Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded and which was leasing it to BP, said in a response letter the company can’t control whether the people that investigators want to question show up or not, but it’s willing to produce a different expert who isn’t on the witness list.

The focus of the seventh set of hearings by the U.S. Coast Guard-BOEMRE panel is the blowout preventer that failed to stop the disaster. A report released last week by a firm that tested the device blamed the failure on a faulty design and a bent piece of pipe, appearing to shift some blame for the disaster away from BP and toward Cameron International, which built the blowout preventer, and Transocean, which was responsible for maintaining it.

The dispute isn’t the first time investigators and Transocean didn’t see eye to eye in the probe.

In October, members of the joint panel accused Transocean of thwarting their efforts to get to critical documents and a witness. The co-chair of the panel said at the time members had been trying for two months to get Transocean to turn over materials related to its compliance with international safety management codes. The panel also said it had been unable to get a specific Transocean manager to come in and testify about safety.

Transocean lawyers said at the time the document request was too cumbersome. And, they said whether that witness testified wasn’t within their control.

“Like you, everyone at Transocean views the company’s cooperation with investigations into the Macondo incident as both a corporate and a moral imperative,” Transocean lawyer Steven Roberts said in his letter to Bromwich.