Companies battle government in court over handling of key evidence in Gulf oil spill

By Dina Cappiello, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Companies accuse gov’t of bungling spill evidence

WASHINGTON — The companies being sued in the largest offshore oil spill in history are fighting among themselves and with the federal government over examining a key piece of evidence.

The enormous, 380-ton blowout preventer that failed to stop the spill is sitting on a pier at a NASA facility in New Orleans but can’t be moved inside a nearby hangar because the sheer weight of the device would destroy the road leading to the shelter. The device was raised from the sea floor Sept. 4 and could provide important clues about what happened in the disaster.

Michael Underhill, the Justice Department’s attorney in the civil lawsuit, told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that a steel pad needed to be put in place to make sure the device doesn’t collapse the dock where it’s sitting, according to court records. A hearing on how experts will examine the device was set for Thursday.

The companies being sued are upset over the government’s plans to preserve and test the blowout preventer. They complained unsuccessfully to the judge earlier this month about the government shipping the device to the NASA facility, which they said is not equipped to house or test it.

The companies are being sued by shrimpers, commercial fishermen, charter captains, property owners, environmental groups, restaurants, hotels and others who claimed economic losses since the spill. Relatives of workers killed in the blast also have sued.

Transocean wanted the blowout preventer sent to a facility in Texas with which it does business, but the judge denied the request. Transocean said it worried that delays in examining the inner workings of the device would cause components to corrode, but the government’s expert dismissed those concerns.

“You’re bringing the mountain to Mohammed rather than Mohammed to the mountain,” said Daniel Farr, a Transocean employee. “It’s a lot of equipment to be moved and preparation to be done.”

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