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Interior hires firm that OK'd Deepwater safety procedures to do autopsy of failed device

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The access is important, CSB officials said, because many tests can't be undone or repeated. Citing limited space and "safety concerns," Interior said last night that it would allow only one expert from the CSB, which often leads investigations of complex industrial accidents, including the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City oil refinery.

The other groups that will get Tier 3 access include BP, Transocean and Cameron, the maker of the blowout preventer, as well as representatives of the Justice Department and plaintiffs in the multidistrict lawsuit being brought against BP.

The CSB said it would continue to press for wider access for its experts. Moure-Eraso said that the investigation should "give the public confidence that this activity is being conducted without influence that might produce something other than objective findings and conclusions."

The CSB, asked by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to conduct its own inquiry into the Deepwater Horizon blowout, has recruited four veteran experts who have no conflicts of interest, CSB officials said. Interior chose one who had extensive drilling experience at Exxon, excluding another with pipeline and welding expertise.

The dispute about who leads the investigation is only one of the controversies to wash over the blowout preventer since it was raised from the Gulf of Mexico sea floor and delivered on Sept. 11 to the Coast Guard.

Transocean believed that the enormous device should have been taken to a private industrial facility in Houston experienced at handling such equipment.

But a New Orleans judge ruled that for security reasons the device should be stored at the NASA facility .

The joint investigation force overseeing the blowout preventer autopsy has said that a structure would be built to house and shelter the massive piece of equipment. It was supposed to be completed by now.

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