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Transocean May Face Subpoena Compliance

HOUSTON (CN) - Transocean Deepwater Drilling may have to comply with five subpoenas issued in a federal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a federal judge ruled.

The rig owner dug in its heels when the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued three records subpoenas and two interrogatory subpoenas for information about the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers.

The federal government sued to enforce the administrative subpoenas in October 2011. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal stayed the petition until a multidistrict litigation panel ruled on whether to transfer the case to Louisiana.

On Feb. 3, 2012, Rosenthal lifted the stay, and litigation proceeded in the Southern District of Texas.

Transocean moved to dismiss the government's petition or quash the subpoenas, but Rosenthal denied the motion on Saturday.

The chemical safety board, established by Congress in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, examines accidental releases of hazardous substances that lead to serious injury, death or substantial property damage.

According to Transocean, the Clean Air Act bars the board from investigating marine oil spills because such investigations are the domain of the National Transportation Safety Board.

"The United States argues that the CSB [chemical safety board] is not investigating a marine oil spill but rather the release of gases from the blowout and explosion," Rosenthal wrote. "This court agrees. The proffered chronology -- blowout, explosion, and fire followed by the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon's subsea riser, then the release of oil into the sea -- does not convert the spill into one that is solely marine in nature, as opposed to one also involving airborne gases and their release."

The National Transportation Safety Board lacks jurisdiction over the spill, anyway, because the explosion took place outside the navigable waters and territorial sea of the United States and did not involve a U.S. vessel, Rosenthal added.

"The subpoenas the CSB issued are within its authority," the order states. "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."

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