Court: Chemical Safety Board Can Investigate Offshore Spills
In a case with potentially far-reaching consequences, a federal appeals court has again found that the US Chemical Safety Board has the authority to investigate the causes of offshore oil spills.
The board has been looking into the catastrophic blowout of a BP well 5 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people and caused the nation’s worst offshore oil spill. The ruling—unless it is overturned by the US Supreme Court—means that the Chemical Safety Board may also investigate other types of chemical spills in offshore waters in the future.
The drilling company, Transocean Deepwater Drilling, contends the safety board does not have the authority to investigate.
Last September, a three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit of Appeals disagreed. On 12 March, the full court rejected by a vote of 9-6 Transocean’s request to reconsider the panel’s finding.
“It has some significant ramifications for offshore operators,” said David Baay, a lawyer for Transocean. He said the board “will now be emboldened” to investigate offshore rig spills and “that means that any offshore incident of significance is likely to face one more federal agency among an already crowded field.”
The ruling could increase costs for drilling companies and add confusion about which agency has the authority to investigate spills, he said.