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Judge Rules CSB Has Jurisdiction Over Deepwater Horizon Accident

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Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has jurisdiction to investigate the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

A Congressional committee had asked the board, which typically investigates accidents at chemical plants and refineries, to examine the oil-rig explosion and accident, which killed 11 workers and triggered the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

But Transocean Ltd., which owned the drilling rig that sank during the explosion, refused to honor subpoenas issued by the board in 2010 and 2011 for documents and employee testimony. It argued that the board lacked jurisdiction over offshore oil spills and that most of the documents had been turned over to other government agencies.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal disagreed with Transocean, ruling late Monday that it had to honor the subpoenas because legislation that created the board, known as the CSB, didn't bar it from looking at all offshore incidents. He noted that the investigation focused on the explosion on the rig, not the ensuing oil spill. The House Energy and Commerce Committee had asked the board to compare the Deepwater Horizon disaster to a lethal 2005 explosion at what was then BP PLC's Texas City, Texas refinery.

Transocean didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

"This ruling greatly supports the CSB's ongoing investigation and will enable CSB investigators to access critical information that might have otherwise been unavailable," the board said in a statement.

The board issued a report last July concluding that offshore oil and gas drillers put too much emphasis on issues such as individual worker injuries while neglecting other indicators of danger, such as whether safety equipment is being maintained on schedule.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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