Reps. Waxman and DeGette Urge Federal Investigators to Examine Transocean’s Extended Worker Shift

Extended Schedule May Have Affected Deepwater Horizon Tragedy
Apr 4, 2011

Today Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Diana DeGette, Ranking Member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, urged the Chemical Safety Board and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement to examine the potential role that Transocean’s decision to extend its worker shift schedule may have played in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Documents provided to the Committee indicate that the schedule shifted from a 14-day-on-the-rig/14-day-off-the-rig to a 21-day-on-the-rig/21-day-off-the-rig pattern.  According to Transocean’s lawyers, this was partially a cost-saving measure.  Lloyd’s Register, an independent assessor, conducted a survey of workers aboard the rig and found that this change was having a negative impact on the workers. 

The Chemical Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the root causes of the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig was requested by the Committee last June. 

April 4, 2011 

The Honorable Michael R. Bromwich
Director
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement
U.S. Department of Interior  
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240 

Dear Director Bromwich: 

We understand that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement/U.S. Coast Guard Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is holding a hearing today at which it will examine the examination of the blowout preventer (BOP) from the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig.  While this hearing will be focused on issues relating to the BOP, we also urge you, and the JIT, to examine an apparent cost-saving decision made by Transocean, the rig’s operator, and to evaluate the role this decision may have played in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. 

We have learned that Transocean extended its worker shift schedule, also called a hitch schedule, in the months prior to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.  In September 2009, Transocean moved its Gulf of Mexico rig workers from a 14-day-on-the-rig/14-day-off-the-rig hitch pattern to a 21-day-on-the-rig/21-day-off-the-rig hitch pattern.  

According to Transocean’s lawyers, the company’s decision to extend worker hitches was partially a cost-saving measure.[1]  Documents provided to the Committee indicate that the schedule shift saved Transocean approximately $200,000 per rig per year, which is almost $2.5 million annually.[2]  These savings are achieved, in part, because the longer shift schedules reduce the frequency with which Transocean needs to fly employees onto and off of their rigs. 

In March 2010, Lloyd’s Register, an independent assessor, conducted a survey of workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon.  Lloyd’s found that the hitch change was having a negative impact on workers.  Specifically, employees complained of “Fatigue issues with the 21-on-21-off policy.”  Lloyd’s also found that fatigue was most pronounced during the third week of a 21-day hitch.  One manager aboard the Deepwater Horizon reported a “big difference in their attitudes on the third week…it’s mentally draining and I’ve got to watch my guys closer.”  Another manager complained that the new 21-on/21-off policy was “definitely increasing the risk of an incident.”[3]  

Six of the eleven people who died onboard the Deepwater Horizon were on day 20 of their 21-day shift; and a seventh was on day 19.[4]  

We believe Transocean’s decision to move to the longer shift schedule should be closely examined as part of your on-going investigation into the incident.  For this reason, we are sending you copies of documents relevant to the change in shift schedule.  Some of these records were provided with a “Confidential Treatment Requested by Transocean Holdings LLC” or a “Confidential Treatment Requested by TODDI” stamp that indicates that the records could contain confidential business information.  Accordingly, we ask that you use care in handling these documents and take appropriate precautions with any genuinely confidential business information contained in the records. 

We are providing you with these documents with the understanding that you and your office acknowledge that these documents are being provided voluntarily and that this voluntary production does not constitute a waiver of the Speech or Debate privilege for any purpose.  

If you have any questions, please contact Tiffany Benjamin of the Committee staff at (202) 225-3641. 

                                                            Sincerely,

Henry A. Waxman                                      
Ranking Member
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Diana DeGette                                        
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations                                                                

[1] Letter from Rachel G. Clingman, Esq., Sutherland Asbill, on behalf of Transocean, to Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Chairman Bart Stupak (Sept. 13, 2010).

[2] Email from Scott McKaig, Rig Manager, Transocean, to Larry Mills, Division Human Resources Manager – North America, Transocean (May 4, 2009) (TRN-HCEC-00116008).

[3] Lloyd’s Register EMEA Aberdeen Energy, Safety Management and Safety Culture/Climate – Deepwater Horizon at 16 (May 11, 2010) (TRN-HCEC-00090589).

[4] Transocean, Personnel On-Board As of 20 Apr 2010 17:09:15 (TRN-USC_MMS-00030435-41).