April 23, 2024

2 Rig Firm Workers Decline To Appear at Oil Spill Inquiry

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 said the company should punish them if they did not testify.

“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 cooperation could affect its future ability to receive permits to operate offshore.

Transocean, 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.

Separately, Transocean disclosed Friday that it had given its top executives, including Mr. Newman, about 45 percent of their targeted performance bonuses for 2010. Several factors, including the accident in the gulf and failure to meet some financial targets, reduced the bonuses.

In a securities filing, Transocean said that despite the gulf tragedy, by its internal statistical measures, “we recorded the best year in safety performance in our company’s history.” Consequently, executives received most of the safety-related portion of their bonuses for the year.

A lawyer for the company said 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 runaway well.

Mr. Hennessy also said that Mr. Bromwich’s suggestion that Transocean punish Mr. Kent or others for not cooperating was “simply outrageous.”

Mike Walsh, a lawyer for the other employee, 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.

“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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