The head of the U.S. agency that regulates offshore drilling is questioning Transocean's willingness to cooperate with a key federal investigation of last year's Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill.
Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, said in a Thursday letter to Transocean that the company has stonewalled on whether it would produce three employees who have been subpoenaed to testify at hearings next week near New Orleans.
"In my judgment, this is less a legal issue than one of whether Transocean recognizes its moral and corporate responsibility to cooperate with an investigation into the causal factors of the most significant oil spill in United States history," Bromwich wrote. "From my perspective, this is what is at stake with the attendance of the Transocean witnesses."
A lawyer for Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded and which was leasing it to BP, said in a response letter that the company can't control whether the people that investigators want to question show up or not, but it's willing to produce a different expert who isn't on the witness list.
Both letters were obtained by The Associated Press.
The focus of the seventh set of hearings by the U.S. Coast Guard-BOEMRE panel is the blowout preventer that failed to stop the disaster. A report released last week by a firm that tested the device blamed the failure on a faulty design and a bent piece of pipe, appearing to shift some blame for the disaster away from BP and toward Cameron International, which built the blowout preventer, and Transocean, which was responsible for maintaining it.
The dispute isn't the first time investigators have clashed with Transocean over its cooperation in the probe.
In October, members of the joint panel accused Transocean of thwarting their efforts to get to critical documents and a witness. The co-chair of the panel said at the time that members had been trying for two months to get Transocean to turn over materials related to its compliance with international safety management codes. The panel also said it had been unable to get a specific Transocean manager to come in and testify about safety.
Transocean lawyers said at the time that the document request was too cumbersome. And, they said that whether that witness testified wasn't within their control, striking a similar note as in Thursday's response to the current dispute.
"Like you, everyone at Transocean views the company's cooperation with investigations into the Macondo incident as both a corporate and a moral imperative," Transocean lawyer Steven Roberts said in his Thursday letter to Bromwich.