oil spillA federal court yesterday upheld the legal authority of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to investigate the April 2010 Macondo blowout and explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. Federal District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal issued an Order that denied a motion by Transocean Deepwater Drilling, Inc. to block the CSB’s access to information pertinent to the CSB’s investigation.

The CSB said a number of companies have cooperated with its ongoing investigation, but that Transocean had raised a number of legal arguments and has not provided the CSB with key information even as the accident approaches its third anniversary.

CSB within its authority

The Court found that “In sum, 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.”

The ruling follows an extensive litigation effort by the CSB and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston.

CSB Chairperson Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso said the ruling will enable his agency’s investigators to get information critical to the investigation.

Taking a "broad look" at the causes

“The CSB’s investigation has been taking a broad look at the causes of the Gulf tragedy,” said Moure-Eraso in a statement. “The issues include how the industry and the regulating agencies learned or did not learn from previous incidents. The report also examines the lack of human factors guidance for offshore production, the reliance on manual safety controls instead of automated systems, and organizational issues that can impair effective engineering decisions. We are also examining the implementation of effective corporate governance and sustainability standards to address safety and environmental risk.

“The Court’s decision affirms what we always believed – that the CSB has the legal authority and, indeed, the duty to thoroughly investigate the Gulf tragedy.”

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.