Change Is in the Air (and at Sea): The Fifth Circuit Redraws the Lines of Federal Authority over Investigation of Maritime Disasters in United States v. Transocean Deepwater Drilling, Inc.

Claire Galley | Note

United States v. Transocean Deepwater Drilling, Inc., came in the aftermath of one of the watershed maritime events of this quarter century. On April 20, 2010, Transocean’s DEEPWATER HORIZON, a mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU), was drilling the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico when a blowout, explosion, and fire occurred. Eleven people lost their lives, and significant amounts of hazardous substances entered the surrounding water and air. The United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was one of several government agencies to respond and investigate the incident. In the process of the investigation, the CSB issued five administrative subpoenas to Transocean seeking relevant records production and answers to interrogatories. Transocean refused to comply and asserted that the CSB lacked authority to investigate the maritime disaster.