October 1, 2020

2 From Transocean Decline to Testify in U.S. Inquiry of BP Spill

The inquiry, jointly conducted by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, is holding hearings in New Orleans next week on the failure of the subsea blowout preventer to contain the explosive oil and gas that led to the accident, which killed 11 workers and bled nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Michael R. Bromwich, the director of the ocean energy bureau, called the refusal of the Transocean employees to appear “unacceptable” and called upon the company to urge them to testify and to punish them if they did not.

“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 spill in United States history,” Mr. Bromwich said in a letter on Thursday to Steven L. Newman, the chief executive of Transocean.

Mr. Bromwich also said the company’s compliance with the investigation could affect its future ability to receive permits to operate offshore. The company, a drilling rig owner and operator, does not receive permits directly but operates as a contractor or a subcontractor to the oil company drilling the well. Transocean was the drilling contractor for BP, which held the permit for the well that catastrophically failed last April 20.

A lawyer for the company responded that Transocean had cooperated extensively in the federal investigation and would provide a senior technician to answer questions about the design, maintenance and performance of the blowout preventer. The company said it had no power to force other employees to travel to New Orleans to appear before the body.

Matt Hennessy, the lawyer for James Kent, a Transocean asset manager who has declined to cooperate with the federal investigation, said that the government did not have the authority to compel his client to testify. He also said that the question now before the panel — the maintenance of the oil rig’s blowout preventer — had been rendered irrelevant by a government report issued last month that found that the device functioned as designed but was not strong enough to control the pressure created by the runaway well.

Mr. Hennessy also said that Mr. Bromwich’s suggestion that Transocean punish Mr. Kent or others for not cooperating was out of line.

“It’s just simply outrageous,” he said. “Here we have our government telling a company that it should consider firing employees who are making decisions which are perfectly within an employee’s rights.”

Mike Walsh, a lawyer for another of the employees, Jay Odenwald, said that his client lived outside the enforceable range of an administrative subpoena and thus did not have to appear. He said that Mr. Odenwald had been identified as a potential witness last year along with scores of other employees of the companies involved in the well.

“The board started naming so many persons of interest that things got out of control and I made the decision that he just wasn’t going to be subject to a spectacle they call a hearing,” Mr. Walsh said.

Neither of the two Transocean employees was aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig at the time it exploded, a company spokesman said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=40740a6b8b12feccc6fae8cf29106318

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