Betty Sutton on the Coerced Transocean Statements


As you may have read, Transocean (the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig) made everyone rescued from the rig sign statements laying out whether they were involved in the incident, and whether they had gotten hurt.

Lawyers for the oil rig’s owner, Transocean, requested that workers who had survived the blast sign the form in the wake of the April 20 blowout on the Deepwater Horizon. This was hours before the workers had been allowed to see their families.

Now some of those survivors say they were coerced and that the forms are being used against them as they file lawsuits seeking compensation for psychiatric problems and other injuries from the blast.

A couple of members of Congress asked Transocean’s CEO about it yesterday, most pointedly Betty Sutton in this exchange.

Now, frankly, I think there may be some truth to Transocean’s claim that they were trying to collect information with the form. This is a documentation-driven industry, and for a rig owner like Transocean, getting a sense of who was on the rig, what contractor they worked for, and what they were doing would be a concern. That said, given the lock-down they kept workers in until they signed these documents, I’d guess they were more interested in surveying precisely what information was out there so they could keep that information locked down as anything else. And the lockdown was certainly heartless and heavy-handed.

Besides, Transocean CEO Steve Newman had to have known yesterday that his company would move, today, to limit its liability in the disaster (albeit on different grounds).

Transocean Ltd., the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that burned and sank last month unleashing a massive oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico, will file in federal court Thursday a petition to limit its liability to just under $27 million, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans and a copy of the filing reviewed by Dow Jones Newswires.

The world’s biggest offshore driller is filing the request in the U.S. District Court in Houston under a century-and-a-half-old law originally aimed at helping U.S. ship owners compete with foreign-flagged vessels. While the company may not succeed in limiting its financial liability, the filing could give Transocean an edge in what could be a lengthy, multipronged legal battle against claims for damages from the accident that killed 11 workers.

[snip]

Under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, a vessel owner is liable only for the post-accident value of the vessel and cargo, so long as the owner can show he or she had no knowledge of negligence in the accident, maritime lawyers say. The law was created in the days before modern insurance and communications technology, to help U.S. shipping businesses compete against foreign ship owners who were protected against claims. Drilling rigs count as vessels under U.S. maritime law, and since “the remains of the…Deepwater Horizon now lay sunken” about a mile deep in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the value of the rig and its cargo comes to no more than $26,764,083, Transocean claims in the filing. Before the accident, the rig was worth around $650 million.

All of which makes me happy that Sutton gave Newman such a good ass-kicking at the hearing.

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65 replies
  1. DWBartoo says:

    Thank you, EW.

    There are two fundamental purposes for such a form.

    First, as you say, is to “lock down” information.

    Second, is to limit the legal options of those on board the rig.

    Beyond that, yes, Transocean, was seeking “information” but the cynical purposes, for that is what they are, remained as the most-sought “aspects” of Transocean’s “intent”.

    Props to Sutton.

    Much more ass-kicking is in order, especially if “criminal charges” for Transocean, BP, and Haliburton, are to amount to nothing more than “misdemeanor negligence” under the Clean Water and Air Acts.

    DW

  2. tjbs says:

    “no knowledge of negligence in the accident,”

    That’s the phrase now, isn’t it.

    Drilling past the permitted depth would be negligence now wouldn’t it?

    Not testing and modifying the BOP would be negligence now wouldn’t it?

    How lucky the records of the last two days, they claim, went down with the rig.

    And speaking of lucky don blankinshit is opening up new mines since the heat and spotlight have moved on, except for the presidential whitewash report due any day now with the required wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. No one could have foreseen.

    Great work these past couple of days EW

  3. spacefish says:

    Last night, Rachel said the rig was flagged in the Marshall Islands. I wonder how that would effect the suit.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Not much. They’re being sued in America and they’ve got assets in america. They’ll be able to say they met the Marshall Island standards, which comply with minimum international standards, in court.

      Almost nobody flags their ships under US rules. It’s simply too costly. Even the cruise ships that clog Florida’s harbors are normally flagged Liberia, Bahama’s, or such.

      Boxturtle (Waiting for our Navy to ‘move’ to Liberia to save money)

    • DWBartoo says:

      It is a flag of “convenience”.

      But, that is O Cayman, ‘cuz that’s how it’s done (finished?).

      The Marshall Islands were granted their independence in 1979 after agreeing to allow our use of those islands for military purposes.

      DW

      • bobschacht says:

        The Marshall Islands were granted their independence in 1979 after agreeing to allow our use of those islands for military purposes.

        Yeah. Part of the secret American Pacific Empire. Best kept secret of the 20th Century.

        Bob in AZ

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    Coerced statements are NOT valid in any real court. Unless they’re planning on trying this at Gitmo, all they’ll be able to to is use the data internally. And they’d know this going in.

    So this was either to bamboozle the workers into thinking they’d really signed away their right or was a legit attempt to gather information about the disaster.

    I’m gonna agree with EW, I think this was a poorly executed plan to simply gather information.

    As to the plea on the 1851 law, that law is still on the books and valid. It’ll take a lot of research just to determine how laws passed since then have modified the terms of the 1851 law.

    Boxturtle (IMO holding them until they sign is kidnapping)

  5. IntelVet says:

    It is amazing to me that people, after the arrogance of the Investment houses and the oil industry, the people still vest their trust in corporations.

    It is like watching battered wives defending their spouses.

  6. smedley says:

    “so long as the owner can show he or she had no knowledge of negligence in the accident”

    The “discovery” process should require them to reveal reams of internal documents, which they will fight at every step. This will be in court until about 2031.

  7. alank says:

    Someone here had intimated that there would be an attempt to salvage the rig. At any rate that’s about 7-8% of its original value, the rig alone. It was built in 2001 as I recall reading. New rigs coming online in 2011 cost twice the original amount of DH.

  8. sojourner says:

    The information that came out yesterday about the hydraulic leak in the blowout preventer was probably why TransOcean needed to get those forms signed… There might have been a faulty cement job, but what happened could have been prevented entirely if TransOcean had kept the BOP in proper operating condition. A whistleblower has also come forward and stated that BP also forced TransOcean to essentially falsify BOP tests.

    This could get interesting…

    • DWBartoo says:

      So (as Dick Cheney might say, “So ….?”)…. both BP and Transocean knew those BOP tests were falsified and essentially useless?

      Interesting.

      And yet, this is still considered to be simply an “accident”?

      DW

      • Leen says:

        Chris Matthews “Cheney needs to testify..under the lights and under oath” Definitely infers how Cheney got off for outing Plame.

        Matthews closing statements on his program last night

      • alank says:

        It’s either malfeasance or nonfeasance. The drilling crew came with the Transocean lease, according to what I’ve seen. The cementing was contracted out to Halliburton. BP is one of three parties on the oil site lease. Components used came from various suppliers.

        • sojourner says:

          Oil companies often “spread the risk” and go in together on drilling ventures. In this case, BP and a couple of other oil exploration companies entered into an agreement to obtain and drill on the lease. BP was likely named to operate the lease, meaning it would do the heavy lifting, but the partners would approve any expenditures, etc.

          There are numerous contractors involved in any drilling venture. There is the drilling contractor (in this case TransOcean); usually another company contracts to manage the drilling fluids (or “mud” as it is called). If the well requires directional drilling, another company will contract to do that. In some cases, the contractor has specialized tools and crews to perform the required activity, so it is a common practice.

          BP’s partners will probably have a cause of action, too, if it can be shown that BP was operating in a way that could expose those partners to additional risk.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          A little clarification about terms.

          Nonfeasance is inaction that results in harm to people or things. It results in liability when the actor had a duty of care to those harmed.

          Malfeasance is committing an illegal or improper act.

          Misfeasance is performing a legal act wrongly, incorrectly, or in a manner that does harm to people or things.

          It would seem part of their common strategy to throw stones at each other and to confuse the hell out of fact finders about exactly who did what. That works better in a criminal context, where the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. It ought to be less effective in a civil liability context, where the burden is a preponderance of the evidence. I expect them all to throw up their hands like Bernanke and Goldman Sachs and claim that nobody knows what happened. BP will then turn round and ask for more leases, higher fees and bigger tax breaks because of the inherent risks of drilling in the Gulf.

        • Larue says:

          I’m waiting to hear more about the placement of mud, the mud operators/observers.

          Oil Drum dot com suggested early on they were pulled OFF the job early, to save money, to get them ‘off the clock’. And then, the mud flows coming UP started, a sign that either oil or gas pressure was pushing the mud up the piping . .

          And then, something went boom.

          I’m also waiting to hear some clarification if methane came up OUTSIDE the piping system, and exploded, or if it came up INSIDE the system and exploded (rapidly expanding still from coming up from below under HUGE PSI’s), or if the methane inside or outside the system did indeed get into the air intake of the diesel generators (big as houses) on the rig, causing them to overrev and explode.

          There’s LOTS of details not making their way into even FDL and the general prog blogosphere yet . . . I wonder why.

      • DWBartoo says:

        If it turns out that the BOP tests were, in fact, falsified, then “plausible deniability” will prove, beyond the doubt of a shadow, that it was unauthorized bad-apple-underlings who were responsible …

        The corporate masters will be indignantly disgusted, and like any smooth talking lothario, their first words will be, “You can trust us …” and the political lackey-class will say, “We do!” and the honeymoon will continue.

        Or not.

        DW

        • oldoilfieldhand says:

          FYI:

          Not all “unauthorized bad-apple-underlings” are morons. Those possessing three digit IQ’s who witness government regulation and company safety policy mandated tests that fail will usually seek dispensation, in writing, from those higher up the food chain before proceeding with a BOP that failed such a test. Plausible deniability isn’t an excuse in this case. Policy and procedures are writ large and in stone.

          • DWBartoo says:

            Oilfieldguy.

            I was engaged in serious snark, which I should have made more clear.

            However the “tech” level (those who know what THEY are doing) actually do know more than the upperlings, even with the deliberate Sgt. Schultz, “I know nuthhh …ing …” act of the craven types who would deny their clear culpability, say those whose stonewalling and haughty arrogance have been on display on Capitol Hill these last few days.

            If you happen to see my comment, ofg, then I should like to ask you (as your information about the technology surrounding the “accident” is among the best I’ve encountered, along with Robert Bea’s), a question: What is the likelihood that the cement work done by Haliburton might have contributed, in some way, to what happened, specifically regarding the cure time, and the chemicals that were added to speed up that process, which I understand might possibly have created sufficient heat to thaw the methane hydrate into a gaseous state.

            DW

      • sojourner says:

        Drilling along the Gulf Coast is a rather dicey proposition. Subsurface pressures can be abnormally high, and if you hit such a spot while drilling things can get a little crazy. Thus, the need for BOPs. Drilling at the depths reported without a fully operable BOP is insane. I have witnessed such a blowout and it is somewhat akin to hell coming out on the surface.

        • DWBartoo says:

          I am certain you are correct, sojourner.

          And everyone on that rig knew that as well (except, possibly, the partying BP executives said to be aboard … who may well have CHOSEN not to know, judging from certain behavior witnessed on Capitol Hill these last few days).

          To disable a BOP or to falsify the test of a BOP, must, surely, be considered appalling by anyone who knows or may imagine the consequence of doing so.

          If it turns out that the BOP test was bogus, then who among those who understand, would not consider such behavior to be criminally negligent in the extreme. People died, and this may prove the worst oil spill ever …

          DW

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      These operators had a duty to take statements from survivors as part of both routine and possibly criminal investigations. They did not have to take them before giving survivors food, water, medical attention or letting them contact their families. It seems clear that the line was crossed.

  9. librty says:

    And the lockdown was certainly heartless and heavy-handed.

    Is an employee lockdown legal? (if so under what conditions) Could an employee lockdown not be construed as restraining one against their will, kidnapping or simply coercion?

  10. Leen says:

    Sutton ripped it up yesterday. She fired one relevant question out after the next. No nonsense and did not have an arrogant attitude.

    Ew/all Chris Matthews is kicking ass on this issue. Go check out his closing statement on his program last night on Hardball. He is hammering Cheney hard

    Chris Matthews “Cheney needs to testify..under the lights and under oath” Definitely infers how Cheney got off for outing Plame

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    That’s an old precedent with an international history, written into law by representatives of those with the most conflict of interest: insurers and ship owners. It hasn’t been found to apply in some past oil spills.

    This action also seems premature: who the hell knows at this state of the investigation whether negligence or worse existed and whether it was “known” and to what level of manager in which company. This seems as designed as part of an ueber-aggressive PR strategy as much as a legal one; in reality, the two are as intertwined as Abelard et Heloise.

  12. RickMassimo says:

    “I will take your refusal to answer the question as your answer to the question.”

    Finally, someone says it. This should be a standard statement at all Congressional hearings. Was that so hard?

  13. DWBartoo says:

    OT: Canada’s “Prince of Pot”, Marc Emery is to be extradited to US.

    Emery, apparently, sold Marijuana SEEDS around the world, and plea bargained a five-year prison sentence with the US last year for “conspiracy to manufacture Marijuana”.

    Out of curiosity, how is it that the US may extradite a Canadian citizen for what are, really, the most petty of non-violent “illegal” behaviors, while Spain, which seeks the arrest of 13 CIA “operatives” who MISTAKENLY kidnapped the wrong person and shipped him through Majorca on the way to be TORTURED, is rebuffed, as was Italy which sought the arrest of 23 CIA “operatives”, also for using Italy as a way-station for trips to torture?

    Something is amiss.

    Badly, seriously and morally, amiss.

    DW

    • tjbs says:

      How Orwellian “I’ll give a Judge all the materials he needs and I defy him to Manufacture A plant without growing it.”

      If Christ would return these nut jobs would put him to death again for actually being the creator of marijuana.

      Quoting my 1851 King James Version of the bible Genesis Chapter 1 vs.29 “behold I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of the earth.” so there’s your “manufacturer”
      And then knowing we would be toking added @ 31″And God saw everything that he had made,and behold,it was VERY GOOD so you Christians should have a big problem with criminalizing God.

      • DWBartoo says:

        I don’t know about putting people to death, tbs, but you other “points” are sharp and on target.

        DW

  14. boltbrain says:

    “The law was created in the days before modern insurance and communications technology, to help U.S. shipping businesses compete against foreign ship owners who were protected against claims.”

    How can Transocean claim to be a U.S. business in need of protection under this law, when it’s rig is registered in the Marshall Islands, it’s headquarters is in Switzerland, and it’s registration is in the Caymans?

    It also seems to me that “communications technology” is going to pose a problem for Transocean.

    Plus the point of the law in modern times seems to make some sense if all Transocean did was rent out its rig to BP on some sort of turn-key basis, but not when its also the operator.

    The law seems to require that the party that might want to claim protection under it start a law suit in federal district court within 6 months of an incident that might result in claims, at least for claims already made or that might be coming in that jurisdiction. There also seems to be case precedent for using it as a defense in response to claims made in state courts.

    But it could be that all this is more about complying with a technical requirement to preserve a possible defense argument, as opposed to seriously seeking a quick solution to Transocean’s liability problems.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Thank you, maritimelawyer.

      You provide further, needful and most-interesting, education.

      DW

      • Hmmm says:

        Huh. The accident happened the day after Transocean started trading on the Swiss exchange. I don’t do stocks, is that a red flag for anyone?

      • DWBartoo says:

        Most interesting.

        One wonders, Elliot, if that will pique the “interest” of those who should also wonder?

        Business as usual?

        (In the midst of calamity – though, perhaps, there may be some, in certain places, who do not view “things” that way?)

        DW

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Nice explanation, thanks.

      If you have time and feel you have the legal latitude, could you be so kind as to inform some of us hoi polloi about the significance of their filing in **this** court.

      A guest on Ed Schultz’s MSNBC program earlier this week alluded to BP’s ‘judge-shopping’ and ‘circuit shopping’, and I assume that also drives their request in this particular location.

      Again, I realize that you may not be able to explain the dynamics, but if another legal eagle around here could find a few minutes to post, that would be lovely.

  15. alinaustex says:

    Leen @ 15
    And it is quite interesting that the Dark High Lord Cheney or even any of his even eviler Spawn have been completely AWOL on the airwaves -well since really the al Qaida Lawyers flap . We keep hearing rumours of a brewing intercine battle with PappaBush & the Cheneyites (neocons) . This could be the great unravelling of the neocons . Many big oil figurs down here are very pissed off about the BP negligence -in the long run this slow moving daily catstrophe is verrry bad for the Oil Business -think PappaBush and Zapata .

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Many big oil figurs down here are very pissed off about the BP negligence -in the long run this slow moving daily catstrophe is verrry bad for the Oil Business -think PappaBush and Zapata .

      Well, please dish up the juicy bits ;-)))))
      Lady Karma has a wicked sense of humor, doesn’t she…?

    • Leen says:

      Yeah. After baby Cheney was slapped down for the Al Queda 7 add. Quiet. At least for a little while.

      Although there sure are a lot more commercials about our oil addiction and how bad bad Iran keeps getting a chunk of that change. Bad Bad Ahamadenejad is all over these commercials. The warmongers are still setting the stage.

  16. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    FWIW, the UK Guardian has some good links and articles, for those interested but who may not regularly check that website. It is, after all, BRITISH Petroleum. In name, at least.

  17. fatster says:

    Apologies if this has been linked earlier, but it’s an excellent summary from McClatchy:

    Oil spill: BP had wrong diagram to close blowout preventer

    LINK.

    • Hmmm says:

      Like I asked before: If the BoP had been modified into an inoperable state, then by whom and at what time? I don’t mean the hydraulic leak, they found a test ram mounted where a real ram should have been.

    • Larue says:

      Thanks, just read that linky, it explains a few questions I had about HOW this all happened.

      At least it’s ONE version of what happened down below and came up top.

      You’ve provided some invaluable links from early on, hoss, really appreciate them all and your work.

      Were you the one to first post Oil Drum dot com at FDL in a Seminal thread?

      • fatster says:

        Thank you for the compliment, Larue. If I find articles that people have shown interest in, I bring them here and provide a link, trying to be helpful (it sometimes works; other times I wonder if I’m not being a nuisance in spite of my intent). Don’t know about Oil Drum dot com link, though I don’t think I linked to it. We’re all in this together and I just try to do my part while I’m able.

        • Hmmm says:

          Please don’t even joke about stopping, dear fatster. The entire concept of not having you here is far too horrible to contemplate.

          • fatster says:

            Go somewhere? Not a chance, Hmmm, not as long as you’re around inspiring me with your commitment and camaraderie.

          • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

            I’ll add a ‘second’ to Hmmm’s good words.

            Hmmmm @50; this is criminal negligence on a scale beyond what any human mind can comprehend. Think about the time this is happening, in terms of annual life cycles:

            In the case of the ExxonValdez, the spill occurred around vernal equinox, which is when the herring come through and leave their eggs; the salmon then follow the herring. That spill happened during one of the critical weeks of the year: think of every hospital nursery in the US being blighted, all the new lives lost. That’s what happened in the ExxonValdez, in terms of the time of the year – making the loss of LIFE (biota) catastrophic and long term.
            (There are some organisms that can tolerate the petroleum; the dispersants, not so much.)

            Think about the time of year that this disaster occurred, plus the fact that — unlike the hull of a supertanker — the oil just keeps gushing, gushing, gushing.

            I’m not familiar with the lifecycles of the Gulf Coast, but it’s about 6 weeks past the vernal equinox, so I’m assuming species are still laying eggs, hatching, young life should be thriving. And that’s apart from the whole economic, human impacts.

            It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of the BP boardroom. My BP acquaintance were Scots, but not at the board level. (Incredible affiliation to the oil industry; genuine True Believers in petroleum.)

            • DWBartoo says:

              And, I will ‘third’ Hmmm.

              (The education and pleasure that fatster’s presence and links have provided me, since first I encountered the Wheel House Gang, are quite beyond measure.)

              DW

            • fatster says:

              This is troubling in this era which is pivotal in terms of halting the destruction of our planet:

              Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan Goes to Bat for Monsanto, Sides With Conservative Justices

              LINK.

              • DWBartoo says:

                Appalling, but not unexpected, somehow.

                Kagan IS the pragmatist’s pragmatist (and a kindly friend to expediency around the clock.)

                DW

                • fatster says:

                  What Does He See in Her?
                  What Obama’s choice of Kagan tells us about his own judicial philosophy.
                  By Dahlia Lithwick

                  LINK.

                  • DWBartoo says:

                    Thank you, fatster.

                    Another must read. Lithwick has dissected Obama’s “grand unified view of the judiciary” quite well.

                    Recommended, very highly.

                    DW

                    • DWBartoo says:

                      We are seeing, I am convinced, the “lockdown” of the end-game “strategy” all around us. It absolutely permeates the culture of power and greed.

                      DW

  18. Hmmm says:

    Getting very depressed about the scope of the impact on earthbound life this event may have. Starting to wonder whether the BP boardroom might be full of End-Times Armageddon fanboy types.

  19. DWBartoo says:

    From the Guardian: (Friday 14 May 2010)

    ‘Tony Hayward, the beleaguered chief executive of BP, has claimed its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is “relatively tiny” compared with the “very big ocean”‘.

    And so forth and so on.

    DW

    • DWBartoo says:

      I can’t help myself …

      “Relatively tiny” minds and “very big” failures and consequent catastrophe.

      DW

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