May 19, 2014 Articles

Major Accident Response: Managing the First 96 Hours

What to do in the aftermath of a disaster.

By Mark L. Farley – May 19, 2014

The energy industry continues to experience high-profile accidents that bring with them intense public scrutiny and the potential for significant reputational harm. These incidents are not limited to any one sector. They have occurred upstream (exploration and production), midstream (transportation), and downstream (refining and chemical manufacturing).

Whether it is a prolonged loss of well control, the fiery derailment of tank cars carrying volatile crude oil, or a refinery explosion, these incidents present a “perfect storm” of unique challenges that can readily overwhelm even the most sophisticated organizations. Federal criminal investigators are often among the first personnel at an incident scene, which raises the stakes even higher. A prompt, sure-footed response by counsel experienced in crisis management is essential.

In the United States, multiple federal and state statutes are implicated by a major accident and establish jurisdiction for subsequent investigations by government authorities. It is not unusual to have an alphabet soup of five or more independent agencies, each with its own statutory mandate, investigating an incident.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) routinely initiate enforcement inspections after major accidents. Independent investigating agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), also respond depending on the nature of the incident. The NTSB investigates transportation incidents while the CSB investigates chemical accidents at stationary facilities that are not incident to transportation. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) may be involved in offshore incidents. State and local agencies and authorities also are likely to respond to major events occurring within their jurisdictions.

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