Oct 5, 2010 3:36 PM
METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Members of a federal panel investigating
the cause of the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill and how
to improve safety and oversight accused rig owner 2010-10-05 on
Tuesday of thwarting their efforts to get to critical documents and
The co-chair of the panel, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen,
told a packed hearing room in a New Orleans suburb that members
have been trying for two months to get Transocean to turn over
materials related to its compliance with international safety
Nguyen said the panel also has been unable to get a specific
Transocean manager to come in and testify about safety.
Transocean lawyers said the document request is too cumbersome.
They said whether the witness testifies isn't within their control.
Nguyen said one of the key elements the panel has been trying to
analyze is the safety culture at the companies involved in the
April 20 disaster, including Transocean. He said the panel will
have to make conclusions and recommendations whether or not
Transocean supplies the information, so he encouraged them to
"We did issue two subpoenas for the same thing. Each time we
were told it was irrelevant and burdensome," Nguyen said. "If
they are burdensome, that means there is something going on with
your safety management system."
Another panel member, Coast Guard Capt. Mark Higgins, said the
board has been "thwarted in some respect" in getting to the
witness that members want to question.
"I would encourage you to look at this as an opportunity to
disprove what we have seen through this small window as to the
culture at Transocean," Higgins said.
Transocean lawyer Ned Kohnke said the company has acted in good
faith and produced everything it believes it should. He said the
panel has the right to go to court to enforce the subpoena if it
"How you can say we are thwarting is beyond me," Kohnke said.
He accused the board of making improper conclusions, not
following its own rules of procedure and not asking questions
properly of other witnesses who have testified.
"You refer to some of these documents not being hearsay. You
are wrong," Kohnke said.
He added, "With all due respect, you have been wrong in other
regards. We are here cooperating."
Earlier Tuesday, a Transocean official testified that water
poured onto the burning rig after the Gulf of Mexico explosion was
meant to keep the vessel cool so it could be stabilized, not to put
out the fire.
There were missing workers and an intense search and rescue
effort ongoing in the hours after the blast.
But Robert McKechnie, a director in Transocean's engineering and
technical support group, told the joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of
Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigative panel
that he believes there was no way to put out the fire with water
alone, so the goal was to maintain the integrity of the structure
to give officials the best chance of bringing the ruptured undersea
oil well under control.
"You're not going to put out an oilfield blowout with water,"
Eleven workers were killed, and 206 million gallons of oil
spewed from the well before it was capped three months later,
according to federal estimates.
There were several boats that came to the scene and spent hours
trying to put out the fire on the rig before it sank. But who was
in charge of that effort and the preparedness of the companies
involved with the rig in responding to a massive fire at sea have
been key issues the federal panel has been probing.
In other developments Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed a
widely expected executive order establishing a Gulf Coast
Restoration Task Force. The panel, which was recommended by Navy
Sec. Ray Mabus in the restoration plan he released last week, will
be led by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa
Obama's order asks the task force within a year to issue a
strategy that will provide a roadmap for restoration efforts.
The panel is holding its fifth series of hearings this week.
BP PLC's well a mile beneath the sea gushed for three months
before being capped in July and then permanently sealed in
September. The British oil giant owned the well but was leasing the
rig that exploded from Transocean Ltd.