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Former Employee: Transocean Nearly Caused Oil Rig Catastrophe During Hurricane Zeta

The post originally was published as part of The Dissenter Newsletter.

When Hurricane Zeta hit the Gulf of Mexico in October 2020, the storm nearly resulted in another catastrophe similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A lawsuit [PDF]—one of several civil lawsuits—was filed by Christopher Pleasant, a former employee of Transocean and Triton Voyager Asset Leasing assigned to the Deepwater Asgard. He claims the corporations delayed disconnecting from a deepwater well until it was unsafe to “unlatch the vessel.”

The United States Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is supposed to regulate offshore drilling but declined to act. They also issued no public statements about the incident that could have had devastating consequences.

Jeff Ruch, the Pacific director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to “order an in-depth inquiry” into the Deepwater Asgard incident.

“This incident raises serious questions as to how effective our offshore drilling safety rules are and whether they are adequately enforced,” Ruch suggested.

As PEER noted in their press release, the Deepwater Asgard was drilling in the Green Canyon area “on the Gulf of Mexico continental slope.” On October 22, the crew “experienced a significant kick of hydrocarbon fluids up the well due to a failed cement job, similar to Deepwater Horizon’s Macondo well.”

The lawsuit was filed under maritime law and the Jones Act, which is supposed to offer crew members like him protection. It may not technically be a whistleblower complaint, however, it exposes corporate malfeasance.

Hurricane Zeta hit the Gulf of Mexico on October 28. The day before Transocean and Beacon Offshore Energy allegedly instructed the crew to “stay latched and continue operations.”

“Plaintiff, along with other crew members on board, strongly disagreed with the decision to stay latched but had no other options but to obey orders,” the lawsuit claims.

In the morning on October 28, the captain of the Deepwater Asgard ordered the crew to unlatch the vessel “with no destination in mind.” But the former Transocean employee maintains the current was too fast and it was impossible to control the vessel.

“The vessel lost an engine and began taking on water in two of the thrusters. Engineers aboard the vessel had to rig tarps to stop the water from reaching the remaining thrusters so the captain could control the vessel.”

Tension rods were allegedly not operating properly because the corporations refused to stop production in May 2020, despite the fact that inspections in 2019 determined replacements were needed.

Eleven people were killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It is estimated over 3 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Recalling this tragedy, Pleasant alleges the corporations failed to inspect, monitor, and repair equipment; failed to maintain a safe work environment; failed to provide an adequate crew; failed to maintain the vessel; and failed to maintain safe mechanisms for work and life on the vessel.

He contends Transocean, Triton, and Beacon issued orders that “directly placed the crew of the Deepwater Asgard in extreme danger.”

This gross negligence allegedly had such a physical and severe mental impact on Pleasant. He is no longer able to engage in any work offshore.

PEER requested that the inspector general’s office for the Interior Department investigate.

A complaint [PDF] the group submitted to the IG states, “There was significant damage to ship and drilling components, and extreme risk to the crew and to the [Gulf of Mexico] marine ecosystem from a potential wellhead blowout.”

The agency responsible for so-called offshore drilling safety “has not been transparent with the American public about this incident.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."