BP Knew of Earthquake at Doomed Oil Well, Expert Says
A geology and petroleum expert testified today that oil giant BP knew a 2006 earthquake occurred at the site of its Macondo oil well, but nevertheless decided to drill the well from the Deepwater Horizon three years later.
According to University of Aberdeen professor Andrew Hurst, the magnitude 6.0 earthquake was a sign that deepwater oil reservoirs in the area could be unstable. Seismic activity leads to “widespread development of fractures” in the rocks holding back oil reservoirs, Hurst said, which means less pressure is required for leaks to occur.
Hurst said the Macondo site wasn’t an impossible place to drill, and in fact appeared to be “a good place to put a well” because of the vast reserves situated beneath. “It was a real investment,” for BP, he said.
But that’s only if you use extreme caution throughout the drilling process, which prosecutors and plaintiffs’ attorneys allege BP threw to the wind at the expense of cost efficiency.
“You really have to be very, very careful” when drilling into such fragile rock, Hurst explained.
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He brought along samples of fractured rocks from the seafloor so that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is deciding the trial in lieu of a jury, could see how fragile they are. “I’m sorry if it looks like a stunt,” Hurst told the judge, adding “you can’t understand rocks unless you look at them.”
Hurst said that oil companies use a variety of methods to predict pressure levels within deepwater oil prospects, but that BP ignored the most reliable predictor — temperature — when assessing the Macondo well. Instead, he alleged BP pressed on and engaged in “scientific fudging to get the right answer after the event” when engineers discovered the well was more volatile than they expected.
BP attorney Matt Regan cross-examined Hurst at great length, pointing out evidence that temperature was not accepted industry-wide as a predictor of well stability and citing numerous key BP reports that were not included in Hurst’s analysis. Regan also asked Hurst to confirm whether he referred to himself as being on the “lunatic fringe” of geoscience while accepting an award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He did — and was “flattered” to have been asked.
Report Excluded Key Conversation
Earlier in the day, Mark Bly, the BP executive who spearheaded the company’s internal report on the disaster, wrapped up his testimony after three days on the stand. As in the days before, Bly repeatedly deflected accusations that his report was designed to pin blame on BP’s contractors. Bly was also forced to repeat admissions that his report neglected to examine whether cost-cutting measures played a role in the accident.
Transocean attorney Brad Brian questioned Bly at length about a phone call placed by a BP supervisor aboard Deepwater Horizon, Donald Vidrine, to an onshore BP engineer, Mark Hafle, during the critical moments before the blast. According to handwritten notes taken by Bly during his investigation, Hafle warned Vidrine that confusing pressure test data collected on the rig signified that the pressure test was improperly set up. But none of that was mentioned in Bly’s official report, and Bly was unable to recall why.
Judge Barbier also saw an edited video of the 2011 deposition of Mike Williams, a Transocean electronics technician who was aboard the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the accident. Williams explained that the rig’s general safety alarm was routinely “inhibited” so that it would not wake the crew up in the middle of the night with false alarms, and verified that it was turned off at the time of the explosion.
Williams also testified Deepwater Horizon captain Curt Kuchta looked like a “deer in the headlights” while trying to assess the immediate aftermath of the blowout.
“He didn’t know what was happening or why.”
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