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CSB to Investigate Deepwater Horizon Blowout

In response to a request from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chairman John Bresland pledged to investigate the accidental chemical release that destroyed the rig – but also stressed that such an investigation may pose a challenge to the board’s resources.

Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., sent a letter to CSB on June 8 requesting the investigation.

“We make this request because we believe CSB’s past work on BP puts it in a unique position to address questions about BP’s safety culture and practices,” they wrote, noting in particular CSB’s investigation into the 2005 fatal BP Texas City, Texas refinery explosion and the 2006 BP pipeline leak in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Waxman and Stupek asked CSB to investigate whether the circumstances leading up to the explosion reflect problems in BP’s safety culture; whether cost-cutting and budgetary concerns played a role in BP’s decisions about well design and testing; how BP, Transocean and other contractors assessed changes to process, technology, equipment, personnel, budget and training on the rig; if BP provided adequate oversight of contractors; and whether CSB can draw parallels between this oil rig explosion and the 2005 Texas City explosion.

In his response, Bresland stressed that CSB will make this work a priority and “apply all of our available resources to ensure the best possible investigation.” He added that the process will include key investigators who were involved in the BP Texas City refinery explosion investigation.

He added, however, that this investigation must “be approached without any preconceptions and that all possible underlying factors and causes are thoroughly and objectively examined. Like other CSB investigations, the investigation should include an examination of key technical factors, the safety cultures involved, and the effectiveness of relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards.”

Bresland also noted that CSB will work to avoid duplicating other investigations already planned or underway. He requested the committee’s help in promoting cooperation with other investigations and in ensuring that CSB’s investigation remains independent from potential criminal inquiries.

Difficult Choices

“The CSB plans to focus on events prior to and including the explosion on April 20; we believe that an examination of the response to the disaster and the impact of the ongoing massive oil spill is beyond the CSB’s current resources and abilities,” Bresland wrote.

Bresland also referenced CSB’s high caseload and number of open investigations, and stressed that conducting this new investigation will require “some difficult choices and decisions.”

CSB will need to rapidly conclude some ongoing investigations, terminate smaller investigations and put others on hold, he said. In addition, CSB must temporarily reassign personnel, draw upon its emergency investigative fund and require supplemental funding as needed.

“We recognize that this human and ecological disaster is one of the most significant chemical accidents of the current era,” Bresland wrote. “All of us share your hope that every possible lesson will be learned from this accident so that nothing similar ever occurs again.”

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