Transocean to give its take on blast causes

By Brett Clanton, Houston Chronicle

More than six months after the deadly Deepwater Horizon accident, Transocean is finally prepared to give the public its take on what happened.

Next week, the owner of the doomed drilling rig, which exploded April 20 at BP’s Macondo well, killing 11 workers, will present preliminary findings of its internal investigation to a federal spill commission, Transocean CEO Steven Newman said Thursday.

Though a complete report won’t be ready until late this year or early 2011, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor is finalizing its conclusions, even as it awaits results of inspection work on the rig’s failed blowout preventer, he said during a quarterly earnings conference call.

“While the general public’s interest in the tragedy has subsided and the media have turned their attention elsewhere, I want to assure you that our focus is squarely on the execution of safe and efficient operations around the world and the resolution of Macondo-related litigation and public policy issues,” he said.

A company spokesman declined to discuss the contents of the report or preliminary findings.

But Transocean’s position has been that it was operating at the direction of BP and is protected from liability in its contract with BP.

Analysts with FBR Capital Markets said Thursday that investors still assume the company’s exposure could be $6.5 billion to $9 billion, judging by the company’s stock price, but the firm called the amount “excessive.”

Transocean is scheduled to present its findings at public hearings Monday and Tuesday by the National Oil Spill Commission. The commission, appointed by the White House, is also expected to share its own findings on possible causes of the Macondo well blowout, which unleashed the nation’s worst oil spill.

BP on Sept. 8 released its internal investigation report, in which it partly blamed rig-based personnel from BP and Transocean for misinterpreting results of a critical well test on the day of the blowout. The British oil giant also implicated Halliburton Co. for a cement job that failed to block dangerous gases from entering the well. The companies have denied culpability.

Other investigations under way include a joint inquiry by the Coast Guard and Interior Department and a criminal probe by the Department of Justice.

Other investigations under way include a joint inquiry by the Coast Guard and Interior Department and a criminal probe by the Department of Justice.

Transocean’s Newman said as the inquiries play out, his company is moving forward — and trying to put the Gulf disaster behind it.

He predicted a “gradual return to normal” in oil and gas activity in the Gulf now that a federal moratorium on deep-water drilling has been lifted, as well as strengthening demand for deep-water rigs globally in 2011.

The Zug, Switzerland-based drilling contractor, with major offices in Houston, said third-quarter profits fell 48 percent to $368 million. A natural gas glut and the Gulf slowdown weakened demand for its rigs, the company said, and $43 million in one-time charges weighed on results.

Also Thursday, smaller rival Pride International said third-quarter earnings rose 3 percent to $36.5 million. Its results were boosted by a favorable comparison with the same period a year ago when a loss from discontinued operations hurt numbers. Revenue dropped 10 percent to $346.2 million from $386.1 million a year ago.

Pride CEO Louis Raspino said continuing uncertainty over new post-spill regulations will delay a rebound in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, he said more consolidation in the offshore drilling industry is likely in light of rising regulatory and operational costs after the Gulf disaster. After a recent restructuring, he suggested his company could be a participant, though he declined to comment directly on recent speculation that his company is in active merger talks.

brett.clanton@chron.com

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