Who Will Investigate the Investigators?


The new Kenneth Feinberg claims process will no doubt dominate the oil spill news this week, but thankfully the resumption of testimony in the Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management investigation is getting some attention. In that process, people are being sworn in and questioned for hours in a Hilton hotel conference room. It’s sounding more like a first round of depositions than a courtroom proceeding, and it’s being conducted by the very government agencies most likely to take heat for both the lead-in and response to the spill.

As an attorney, let me tell you, it’s nice when you get to control that first round of questions under oath.

As such, these statements are a gold mine for Big Oil lawyers who will be trying to get their clients off the hook by blaming others. We’ll see how it plays out, but it’s interesting that they moved the questioning from New Orleans to Houston this week, citing jurisdictional issues. And it’s interesting that they are bringing in lots of rig workers to testify.

But they are unlikely to drag many regulators into those hotel rooms for hours of questions, because, of course, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is the old Mineral Management Service, the agency typically blamed for lax oversight that contributed to this disaster. Remember, they are the ones who signed off on much of the “planning” that BP and the others submitted.

So far this week, testimony has included workers from the rig-owner, Transocean. The workers recalled concerns over the new BP “company man” replacing an experienced well-site leader. That new company man, Robert Kaluza, won’t be among those testifying. He made a bit of history by becoming among the first to “take the Fifth.”

The Washington Post has a good piece up about both the substance and context of the probe: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/23/AR2010082305026.html?hpid=moreheadlines

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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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