BP Falsified Data to Drill Doomed Oil Well, Expert Says

Posted February 27, 2013 in Crime Editors Picks Government by

An oil well drilling expert testified today that oil company BP “played fast and loose” with government safety regulations by falsifying the well pressure data it presented to federal regulators.

Dr. Alan Huffman, a geophysicist and Chief Technology Officer of Fusion Petroleum Technologies, Inc., accused BP of “truly egregious” conduct for continuing to drill the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico after collecting data indicating the well was unstable. Months later, the well would be the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 crew members and leaked millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.

Huffman pointed out discrepancies between BP’s internal pressure test reports and the figures the company presented to Minerals Management Service (MMS) regulators. He said the fudged numbers offered a “very misleading impression” of the well’s stability.

Huffman didn’t mince words, describing BP’s actions as “dangerous,” “beyond imprudent” and “egregious beyond anything I’ve seen in my career.”

When drill site leaders discovered dangerous pressure levels, they “should have stopped right there,” Huffman said, adding that the decision to press on “violated every standard I know.” He said BP was obligated to accurately report the pressure figures to MMS, but they reported the data “selectively or not at all.”


Conflicting Depositions

Click here to read our full coverage of the trial.

Prior to Huffman’s testimony, the court was shown excerpts from the taped 2011 deposition of former BP CEO Tony Hayward, who was lampooned in 2010 for saying in the wake of the disaster: “I’d like my life back.

The video showed a combative exchange between plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Cunningham and Hayward, who repeatedly argued that Cunningham was taking his previous testimony and remarks out of context. Cunningham asked about several instances of Hayward promising to cut costs while increasing production, suggesting that safety was valued less than savings and profits within BP company culture. But Hayward countered with examples of past promises to improve drilling safety as well, and rebuffed suggestions that his “every dollar counts” philosophy had encouraged recklessness among oil rig crew members.

Hayward’s testimony was immediately followed by another taped deposition from Kevin Lacy, a former BP executive who provided oversight for Gulf of Mexico drilling operations. Under orders to maximize efficiency, Lacy cut nearly $300 million in costs while boosting production more than 50 percent in 2009. He resigned less than six months before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, citing concerns about BP’s commitment to safety.

When Cunningham asked Lacy if his bosses asked him to cut costs at the expense of safety, Lacy paused for several seconds before answering: “Not explicitly.”

Asked to elaborate, Lacy said, “I was never given a directive to cut corners or deliver something unsafe, but there was tremendous pressure to cut costs.”


Missing Cement Samples

BP isn’t the only company on trial — Transocean Ltd., which owned the oil rig and employed its crew, and Halliburton Co., which designed the cement slurry used to construct the Macondo well, are also defendants. And at the end of the second day of testimony, Halliburton got dragged a little deeper into the finger pointing that has dominated the proceedings.

Mark Bly, the BP executive who spearheaded the company’s internal investigation into the accident, testified that Halliburton failed to supply him with samples of the cement slurry used in the well despite repeated requests over the course of at least three months. Though the samples were never received, a key finding of Bly’s investigation was that the cement was too porous to prevent oil and natural gas from seeping out.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Sterbcow told the court that while Halliburton was ignoring BP’s requests for cement samples, it was conducting its own extensive internal testing. Halliburton has never released the results of those tests or samples of the slurry. When Sterbcow asked Bly if Halliburton should share its information for the good of safety throughout the industry, Bly said “people should share information that can help us learn about accidents.”

What do you think of the testimony so far? Let us know in the comments section below.

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