Rig owner challenges report on Gulf disaster

Citing what it called “overt errors” and “rank speculation,” Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean on Wednesday urged the Coast Guard to revise a recent draft investigation report that said the company was partly to blame for last year’s Gulf of Mexico disaster.

On the final day of a comment period on the draft report, the Swiss-based driller called for more than 230 changes and even suggested the joint Coast Guard-Interior Department board investigating the accident ignored evidence in pursuit of an agenda.

“The investigative staff has failed to carry out the mission they were assigned and, instead, have produced an advocacy document that disregards inconvenient facts in order to justify a pre-determined outcome,” Transocean said in a 216-page brief filed Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security and Interior Department.

Specifically, Transocean sought to refute four key findings of the Coast Guard report, which was released April 22, two days after the one-year anniversary of BP’s Macondo well blowout, which killed 11 workers and triggered the nation’s worst oil spill.

First, it denied that poorly maintained equipment on the rig was responsible for igniting gas that escaped from the well. Rather, it was BP’s “risky, cost-saving decisions” that caused the blowout and made ignition “inevitable from any one of hundreds of properly functioning, well-maintained electrical devices,” the brief said.

Transocean also defended its upkeep of the huge blowout preventer, which failed to seal the well at the sea floor, allowing an estimated 5 million barrels of crude to gush into the Gulf. Transocean said crews performed routine maintenance of the critical well-control equipment according to established industry standards, government regulations and the manufacturer’s guidelines.

The brief also challenged the report’s finding that engines on the rig failed to shut down when gas was detected. The engines were not designed to shut down automatically when gas entered the engine room, and Transocean said it knows of no such systems on rigs comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.

And the company denied that the rig’s general alarm should have sounded automatically when gas reached the facility’s surface. Transocean said the general alarm was on the “manual” setting, a common practice that prevents repeated false alarms upon activation of gas or smoke detectors. But it was not “inhibited,” as the report suggests. When dangerous amounts of gas were detected, crews correctly activated the general alarm, which helped 115 workers survive the accident, the company said.

Elsewhere in the brief, Transocean directly criticized the joint Coast Guard-Interior Department investigation board for ignoring key evidence discovered in seven rounds of public hearings, accusing it of relying on speculation rather than fact in assembling its report.

“When a report of this import purports to reach conclusions and makes ‘findings’ so at odds with the evidence, questions must be raised about the fact-finding process and whether an agenda, rather than evidence, served as the report’s foundation.”

Lt. Sue Kerver, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, declined to comment on the substance of the Transocean brief because she had not yet seen it.

But she said the Coast Guard will consider the brief, along with other responses from parties of interest, as investigators compile a final investigation report due by July 27.

The Coast Guard’s draft report, called Volume One, focused narrowly on the explosions and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, worker evacuations, the flooding and sinking of the rig and the safety systems of the rig and of Transocean. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is expected to address root causes of the blowout in the final report.

Meanwhile, Transocean is expected to release its own internal investigation report later this month.

And several other accident investigations continue, including one by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and a criminal probe by the Justice Department.

brett.clanton@chron.com

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