US sues Transocean for blocking oil spill probe

The US government sued offshore drilling group Transocean on Wednesday for blocking an investigation into the cause of the giant 2010 oil disaster off the coast of Louisiana.

The civil suit filed in Houston, Texas accuses the Swiss firm of failing to comply with five subpoenas issued by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), a government agency.

“Transocean’s ongoing failure to provide information has impeded and delayed the CSB’s critical safety inquiry,” Donald Holmstrom, director of CSB’s western regional office, said in an affidavit.

“Transocean’s production of information in compliance with these subpoenas is required to evaluate Transocean’s internal safety culture, managerial decision making and incident response mechanisms.”

The CSB also seeks information from Transocean to determine what role human factors may have played in the events leading up to the blowout and explosion.

The investigation is one of several being conducted by various government agencies and the lawsuit was filed the same day as regulators slapped Transocean, BP and Halliburton with citations that are expected to lead to massive fines.

The US Justice Department is also conducting a criminal investigation into the deadly disaster which killed 11 workers aboard Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20th 2010.

By the time the well was capped 87 days later, 4.9 million barrels of oil had gushed out of the runaway well 1,500 metres below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

A key US government report released in September spread the blame for the massive oil spill, citing a bad cement job, poor management by BP and its subcontractors and risky shortcuts.

In a July 13th letter to the safety board provided to AFP on Wednesday, Transocean argued that the subpoenas were “improper” because the agency “lacks the authority and jurisdiction to investigate the Macondo incident.”

It noted that it had made “repeated voluntary efforts to satisfy the many queries and demands of CSB” and had also cooperated with “a number of federal investigations.”

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Swiss firm plundered Congo oil rents: NGO

An NGO has accused a Swiss trading firm of misappropriating oil rents from the Republic of the Congo thanks to an exclusive contract with a refinery managed by the son of the African state's leader.

A source at the president's office in Brazzaville, who asked to remain anonymous, slammed the report as "an unprecedented intrusion into Congolese affairs."
The Berne Declaration, known for probes into corruption among African leaders, claims that Philia — a Swiss trading firm owned by one shareholder — signed a contract with the Republic of the Congo's state-owned refinery Coraf in 2013 to export oil products.
The contract was not obtained via a public tender process, according to the NGO.
Coraf, the nation's only oil refinery, is managed by Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, the son of the oil-rich country's president, Denis Sassou Nguesso.
"Coraf provided the Geneva-based trader with free credit and, in doing so, enabled it to bypass the compliance procedures that trade finance banks typically conducted before allocating credit," the non-governmental group said in a statement earlier this week.
"By immediately re-selling its cargoes to third parties, including other Swiss traders, Philia acted as a pure intermediary between Coraf and the
international markets.
"Philia therefore pocketed substantial profits for zero logistical effort."
The Republic of the Congo is among the top oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa, and its economy is heavily dependent on its petrol exports.
But the country remains riddled with poverty.
The Berne Declaration —which said its claims were based on exclusive documents it obtained — alleges that the refinery is "a true financial abyss for the Congolese Treasury."
"For three years, the state has not received a single penny in exchange for the oil it allocates to the refinery," it says.
The source at the Congolese presidency voiced outrage at the allegations.
"Sooner or later, we will responde to give the true version of the facts," the source told AFP.