House panel asks Transocean for data on rig before blowout

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26 -- US House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders sent a letter to Transocean Ltd. on July 23 seeking more information on safety practices aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the semisubmersible rig’s condition before it caught fire and exploded following the Macondo well’s blowout on Apr. 20.

The request came in response to questions raised by the committee’s investigation of the accident that killed 11 workers, recent media accounts, and statements made by a surviving crew member, chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Calif.) said in their letter to Transocean Ltd. Chief Executive Steven L. Newman.

They cited a New York Times July 22 report of a survey that found rig workers feared reprisals for expressing safety concerns and documentation on the poor condition of numerous pieces of equipment, and statements at a July 23 Marine Board of Investigation hearing in Kenner, La., by Michael Williams, chief electronics technician for the offshore drilling contractor, that alarm systems on the rig had been placed in an “inhibited” mode to prevent false alarms.

Williams sued Transocean; BP PLC, the well’s primary owner and operator; and Halliburton Energy Services Inc., which provided cementing services, for negligence on Apr. 29 in US District Court for eastern Louisiana. He testified at the July 23 hearing that supervisors on the rig told him “they didn’t want people woken up at 3 a.m. to false alarms” after he discovered that the system had been turned off, Bloomberg News reported. A computer system would have still detected high levels of gas or a fire, the story added.

The story also quoted an e-mailed response from Transocean that the Deepwater Horizon’s alarms were in good condition and were not bypassed. The general alarm system on the rig was “intentional and conforms to accepted maritime practices,” it indicated.

Waxman and Stupak asked Newman to provide the committee by July 30 all documents relating to safety on the rig, including any survey of workers’ attitudes and any safety concerns expressed by any contracting party, rig worker, third-party contractor, or inspector; and all documents related to the rig’s equipment maintenance, functionality, repair, or replacement.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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