BP, Halliburton Share Blame for Flawed Well Structure
Cement contractor Halliburton made critical mistakes in formulating and testing cement used in BP’s Macondo well, but BP shared responsibility for the success of the job, according to expert testimony given today in the civil trial over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Cement expert Glen Benge was on the stand for the second day, detailing nine distinct problems with the cement well construction that ultimately contributed to the blowout that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But under cross examination from BP attorney Matt Regan, Benge was pressed to pin the blame on Halliburton, which supplied a foamed cement that failed to set properly.
Benge conceded that it was the responsibility of the cement contractor to effectively communicate with the well owner about the status of the project, but that both entities “have to work together to achieve a successful cement job.”
“You can’t do it in isolation,” he said.
But the two companies didn’t communicate well, Benge testified. Halliburton didn’t show BP cement test results that suggested problems with the formula, and BP didn’t inform Halliburton that it planned to use only six drill pipe centralizers instead of the 21 recommended by Halliburton. As a result of these and other mistakes, Benge said the Deepwater Horizon crew conducted a negative pressure test on the well before the cement had time to harden.
Benge’s testimony was supplemented only briefly by the next witness, cement expert David Calvert. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier asked why he needed to hear from two consecutive experts on the same topic, and after several minutes of largely repetitive testimony, Barbier insisted that the attorneys wrap it up.
Blowout Preventer Not Maintained
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Rory Davis, a forensic engineer who inspected the blowout preventer after it was recovered from the Macondo well, was the last witness to testify in the second week of the trial. Davis said that the blowout preventer could have averted the disaster if it had been properly maintained, but it had a dead battery and a reverse-wired solenoid.
Rig owner Transocean was informed that the batteries in the blowout preventer needed to be replaced each year, but Davis testified that the dead battery was more than two years old at the time of the accident. He said that there are compatible batteries that have remote voltage monitoring capabilities, but Transocean chose not to use them.
Davis said that if the “battery had been sufficiently charged, it should have cut the pipe and sealed the well.”
BP Objects to Settlement Amounts
Damages in BP’s civil trial won’t be determined before next year, but the company’s settlement debts continue to mount. BP struck a settlement deal with a group of plaintiffs in December, and though the deal had no liability cap, BP said it expected to pay about $7.7 billion in claims. It increased that estimate to $8.5 billion last month and complained to Judge Barbier that the independent arbitrator processing the claims was calculating damages in a way that was too favorable to claimants.
But Barbier approved the arbitrator’s approach in a ruling earlier this week, prompting BP to state in its annual report that it will subsequently have “significantly higher” financial obligations under the settlement. BP now says it cannot estimate what the settlement will cost them, and promises to appeal the ruling.
Speaking at the IHS CERAWEEK conference in Houston this week, BP CEO Bob Dudley briefly mentioned the disaster and ongoing trial during a speech that focused largely on the company’s plans to increase oil production from shale and deepwater reserves.
“We are vigorously defending the company, but we are determined to make our case in the courtroom and not in the press,” Dudley said. “We believe the law and the facts are on our side.”
“We alone stepped up from the outset, acknowledging our role, waiving the liability cap and committing ourselves to help restore the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.”
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