Originally posted by Rebecca Mowbray - Times Picayune - December 18, 2010
U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier ordered Transocean Ltd. Friday to give safety audits and other materials on all of its vessels in the Gulf of Mexico to government investigators, and not just material related to the Deepwater Horizon rig.
The decision at Friday's monthly status conference meeting in the consolidated oil spill litigation was a win for government investigators. Sharon Smith, an assistant U.S. Attorney in New Orleans working on the case, said that the government is charged with not only finding out what went wrong aboard the Deepwater Horizon, but trying to look at whether there are systematic problems that need to be dealt with through statutory or regulatory changes. For that reason, investigators need to see the actual reports and audits behind safety certifications for all of Transocean's vessels in the Gulf.
Smith said that Transocean has turned over some information on the Deepwater Horizon, but has been stalling on the broader request.
Richard Hymel, an attorney for Transocean, said the company was fighting it because it believes that the government needs to prove why it was relevant to get material on the entire Transocean fleet in the Gulf of Mexico.
But Barbier agreed with the government and told Transocean to comply with the subpoena. "They have a broad scope of inquiry," he said.
Meanwhile, fact-finding continues in other aspects of the case.
Depositions will begin in January, with ten days of testimony being taken that month and 15 days every month after that until they're completed. Most will take place in New Orleans or Houston.
Testing of the blowout preventer continues and should be completed by late February or early March, Justice Department attorney Mike Underhill said.
Halliburton, meanwhile, turned over cement samples on Nov. 16, and is supposed to suggest protocols for testing the cement in early January.
Other subsea equipment from the oil disaster is in the process of being recovered and inspected, the Justice Department said.
In a surprise appearance that wasn't on the agenda, Texas lawyer Brent Coon, the lead plaintiff attorney in the litigation over the March 2005 explosion of the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, which killed 15 workers, showed up and gave Steve Herman, the plaintiff liaison counsel in the oil spill case, a hard drive with 7 million documents from the Texas litigation.
Deborah Kuchler, an attorney for Anadarko and MOEX, the minor partners in the well, jumped up and said if the plaintiffs were getting copies, her clients wanted them, too. And Andrew Langan, an attorney for BP, raised questions about the confidentiality of certain documents. "I don't know what just happened here," he said, to laughter in the courtroom.
Herman pledged to maintain the confidentiality of the documents, and attorneys on different sides of the case said they'd figure out an appropriate way to deal with them.
At Friday's hearing, BP attorney Don Haycraft gave an update of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the $20 billion fund being administered by Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg to compensate victims of the oil spill. As of Tuesday, Feinberg had received 465,912 claims and had paid $2.5 billion. "The numbers continue to increase," Haycraft said.
While Coon had the podium, he took the opportunity to contradict Haycraft and rail against the Feinberg fund, which Coon said has been arbitrary in paying one shrimper but not another, or paying a shrimper, but not the shrimp processing plant that's lost millions. "I would disagree with the comments about the success of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility," Coon said.
As the hearing was wrapping up, the attorneys general from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida issued a joint press release urging people not to take final payments or quick final payments from Feinberg because they require people to waive all future rights.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and his counterparts are concerned because anyone who accepts a final payment must agree that they can never recover any additional money from BP or other parties responsible for the oil spill. Many individuals or businesses may have trouble knowing what the true state of their losses is at this point, and if a future hurricane washes more oil on shore or the local fish population fails to recover, or if people get sick, they will be unable to collect any additional money if they accept a final payment from Feinberg.
"Due to the speculative nature of estimating final claim value and the breadth of the GCCF release, the Attorneys General advise claimants against accepting any form of final payment or signing any release without first thoroughly reviewing and understanding the GCCF's terms," Caldwell and the other attorneys general wrote.
If people only file interim claims to recover damages that are currently known, they don't have to sign a release.