Transocean ordered to turn over safety records to Gulf oil spill investigation panel


NEW ORLEANS — Transocean Ltd. must turn over a batch of safety records to a government panel probing the deadly rig explosion that spawned the massive Gulf oil spill, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Transocean, which owned the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig, had balked at providing some of the safety records for its other rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to the panel of Coast Guard and industry regulators.

Transocean argued that the records sought by the panel, including external audits of safety management systems, aren’t relevant to its investigation. But U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled Friday that the panel is entitled to the documents.

A government attorney told Barbier that the records were needed to determine if the April 20 rig explosion resulted from a systemic problem with Transocean’s rigs.

“Is it something that could be across the board affecting other vessels in the Gulf,” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Smith.

Transocean lawyer Richard Hymel said the government’s request is “the very definition of a fishing expedition.” The Coast Guard already has inspected Transocean’s other rigs in the aftermath of the explosion, Hymel added.

“They have to prove that the documents are relevant,” he said.

The panel of Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement investigators wrapped up its sixth round of hearings last week. At least one more round is expected before the panel files its report on what caused the disaster and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The rig blast killed 11 workers and left millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf from a blown-out well on the sea floor. Barbier is presiding over more than 300 lawsuits stemming from the explosion and spill, including a suit the Justice Department filed earlier this week against well owner BP, Transocean and other companies.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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