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CSB withdraws recommendations stemming from Deepwater Horizon investigation

Deepwater Horizon

Photo: Chemical Safety Board

Washington – Contending that it lacks proper regulatory authority, the Chemical Safety Board on Nov. 14 voted to withdraw its recommendations issued to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement after its investigation into the April 2010 explosion and fire that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The board voted during a CSB public meeting to withdraw separate safety recommendations concerning corporate administration and the extension of whistleblower protections for offshore oil workers. The recommendations stemmed from an April 2016 CSB report in which investigators said BSEE needed to strengthen its safety regulations to help prevent similar incidents.

Board members who support the withdrawal said the vote should not be construed as CSB neglecting worker protections or environmental safety.

“Turning this into a very simplistic outcome will really mean we have not communicated the (CSB) message effectively to the board or the public,” CSB Chair Vanessa A. Sutherland said during the meeting.

BSEE opposed the recommendations in part because officials said they believe their agency does not have authority to implement them. However, CSB board member Rick Engler said in a memorandum that the CSB Office of Recommendations and BSEE “have failed to make a convincing case that BSEE does not have statutory authority to enhance worker participation” and “incorrectly assert” that agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor carry that authority.

Engler opposed the decision to withdraw the whistleblower recommendation, believing it could have been clarified.

Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Shanna Devine, of watchdog group Public Citizen, said it is “inexcusable that there are not whistleblower protections in place.”

“This is not a repudiation of keeping the environment safe,” Sutherland said, adding that the vote would not preclude the board from possible further action, including the potential consideration of a redrafting of the recommendations, if proposed and seconded by the board.

The 2016 report from CSB stated that BSEE should focus more on risk reduction policies and possible human and organizational factors that play a role in safety, and that a collaborative approach to safety between regulators, industry leaders and workers is necessary to achieve the best possible results.

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