A Transocean Employee on the Deepwater Investigation?


The Houston Chronicle‘s Fuel Fix posted an interesting piece late Tuesday night about a notable conflict of interest in the investigation into the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The paper cites documents that indicate that a supervisor from Transocean, the rig’s owner, has participated in tests on the blowout preventer—a key piece of evidence in the ongoing investigation.

According to the documents, the paper reports that “the Transocean employee has manipulated equipment on the 50-foot-tall, 300-ton blowout preventer, while a government contractor runs it through a battery of tests in New Orleans.” More from the article:

The government contracted the forensic analysis firm Det Norske Veritas to run the equipment through tests designed to shed light on why key pipe-cutting and hole-closing components failed to slash through drill pipe and seal off the well hole.

DNV later arranged for Owen McWhorter, onetime subsea supervisor on the Deepwater Horizon, to assist in the testing.

The government instructed DNV to terminate its contract with McWhorter after concerns were raised last week by the Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency also investigating the disaster.

The decision to use the Transocean employee as a consultant appeared to violate a conflict-of-interest provision in the government’s contract with DNV, acknowledged Michael Farber, a senior adviser for the ocean energy bureau, in a letter to the Chemical Safety Board.

Yikes. The piece says the government instructed DNV to remove McWhorter from the project after the conflict was pointed out. The tests they are conducting on the blowout preventer are crucial to figuring out what exactly went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, since, as the name would imply, this device was supposed to prevent such a disaster from occurring. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the Coast Guard are investigating the causes of the disaster.

As Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) noted in a letter to BOEMRE head Michael Bromwich on Tuesday, the involvement of a Transocean staffer should raise “serious questions as to the credibility and objectivity” of the investigation.

Fact:

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.