U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, based in Texas, has refused to block several subpoenas issued to Transocean Ltd. by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) in its probe of toxic chemical releases during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, ruling the agency has the authority to investigate the incident. Judge Rosenthal found that the CSB is statutorily authorized to investigate the Deepwater Horizon incident based on the release of gases from the well blowout and subsequent explosion, despite Transocean’s claims that the agency should be prohibited from investigating the incident. Judge Rosenthal stated in his order:
The CSB has shown that it has jurisdiction to investigate the Macondo incident. The subpoenas the CSB issued are within its authority. Because Transocean raised no challenge to the subpoenas other than the argument that the CSB exceeded its statutory authority, the motion to dismiss or to quash the subpoenas must be denied.
Transocean, owner of the rig, had argued that the CSB, created by 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act (CAA), lacked authority under the CAA to investigate the incident as a “marine oil spill,” which it claimed is under the exclusive bailiwick of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Judge Rosenthal stated the NTSB only has exclusive authority over “transportation-related” marine oil spills. It was pointed out that the incident first involved a blowout, explosion and fire, followed by a drilling riser collapse, and then the oil spill. The incident also involved the release of airborne gases. For these reasons, the judge said the incident can’t be considered solely as an oil spill.
According to the CSB’s petition, filed in October 2011, Transocean had either failed to respond, or had inadequately responded, to more than three dozen document requests. The CSB served Transocean with two subpoenas in November 2010, followed by another subpoena in March 2011 and two more in April that year, asking for information on the rig, its staff and related policies, as well as documents from an internal investigation provided to the federal Deepwater Joint Investigation Team. But Transocean had yet to fully satisfy any of the requests, the CSB claimed. The case is U.S. v. Transocean Deepwater Drilling Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. This case is not part of the massive litigation in New Orleans before Judge Carl Barbier.
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