Transocean lost a motion it hoped would allow it to avoid turning over internal documents related to the 2010 BP oil spill.
A panel of three judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied the company’s motion to stay judgment pending its appeal and hand over documents subpoenaed by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), a federal board that investigates the release of regulated substances from a stationary source into the environment.
The CSB has been investigating Transocean’s potential role in BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people and set off the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. CSB officials said that Transocean, a Swiss company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig and leased it to BP for exploratory drilling, only partially complied with subpoenas demanding documents related to the company’s internal investigation of the spill, which flooded the Gulf of Mexico with nearly 210 million gallons of crude.
The U.S. government filed a petition to enforce the CSB’s subpoenas in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, where the BP oil spill litigation is underway, but Transocean filed a motion to dismiss that petition and stop the subpoena process. Transocean argued that the CSB did not have the authority to investigate the oil spill.
The federal court denied the motion, however, and on April 22 granted the government’s petition to enforce the subpoenas. Transocean appealed the decision, asking the appeals court for a stay until its case was heard.
The appeals court said that Transocean’s arguments behind its request for a stay were “absolutely meritless.”
“As the district court correctly held, Transocean cannot justify a stay merely by arguing that it should not have to comply with a subpoena enforcement order ‘unless and until the appellate court says it must,’” the Fifth Circuit said in its decision.
“The injury that a stay would work upon the government and the public is clear,” the court added. “As we have discussed, the CSB is authorized to investigate accidental releases of hazardous substances and make recommendations to prevent future releases. Delaying the subpoenaed documents’ release would impede the accomplishment of this mission, which is of unquestionable significance to workplace and public safety.”
“We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision,” Dr. Daniel Horowitz, CSB’s managing director, told the Associated Press. “After years of litigation, it paves the way for the CSB to finally conclude its Deepwater investigation, which we believe holds lessons for all the energy industry.”