US district court hears arguments in Deepwater Horizon case

12 April 2012 00:07  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A US district court judge on Wednesday heard arguments from the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in April 2010, killing 11 people.

At issue was a CSB petition to enforce five subpoenas regarding the Deepwater explosion, which took place at the Macondo drilling lease in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to court documents, from 24 November 2010 until 7 April 2011, the CSB issued “three subpoenas for records and two requiring answers to interrogatories”.

Transocean has asked the court to dismiss the petition.

The company said that, according to the Clean Air Act, the CSB has authority only to investigate the accidental release of chemicals “into the ambient air” and not marine oil spills.

Transocean also claims that the Clean Air Act specifically prohibits the CSB from investigating incidents on the outer continental shelf, where the explosion occurred.

Additionally, the rig was not a “stationary source”, which is a requirement for CSB investigations, Transocean attorney David Baay said.

He also said that, if the CSB had the authority to investigate incidents on the outer continental shelf, it would have conducted one already.

Assistant US attorney Adam Goldman, representing the CSB, countered Transocean's arguments by saying the safety board did have jurisdiction because the Deepwater Horizon rig was, in fact, a “stationary source” because it was connected to the outer continental shelf by a drilling pipe and other exploration-process components.

He said the reason for the CSB investigation was not the oil spill but the explosion, which killed 11 people and sent toxins into the ambient air.

The CSB has no authority to levy fines or other penalties, he said. Its sole purpose is to investigate incidents so it can advise other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and recommend regulatory policies.

Goldman said that, since the CSB became a funded independent agency in 1998, there have not been any incidents on the outer continental shelf that it has deemed serious enough to investigate.

After the hearing, Judge Lee Rosenthal made no indication as to when she would issue a decision.

By: Bobbie Clark
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