Halliburton Cement in Doomed Oil Well Failed Stability Tests
An executive with oil services contractor Halliburton testified today that it would have required “perfect conditions” for his company’s cement formula to have properly set in the Macondo oil well, site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 people and soiled coastal areas from Texas to Florida.
Thomas Roth, Halliburton’s global vice president of cementing at the time of the accident, said his technicians told him there were no major problems with the cement slurry. He testified that cement lab supervisor Ron Faul reported “no significant concerns” and predicted a “good job.”
But documents exhibited in court today showed that the cement slurry failed three out of four stability tests prior to the blowout. Roth testified that he did not learn about those test results until after the accident occurred.
Roth also said he was “surprised” to learn that additional tests were performed on reserved cement samples in the weeks after the accident, and that the results of those tests were not recorded at all.
As we reported yesterday on Lawyers.com, a 2011 court filing by BP accused Halliburton of neglecting to share the cement test results and discarding the remaining samples so that neither could be used against the company at trial. The accusation is largely based on the deposition of Halliburton lab technician Rickey Morgan, who testified that the cement samples “looked thin” but that he only reported his findings verbally to his supervisor, Mr. Faul.
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Though the third week of testimony has so far focused on Halliburton’s cement, prosecutors and plaintiffs’ attorneys are arguing that the explosion occurred as the result of a perfect storm of negligence involving at least three companies: BP, Halliburton and Deepwater Horizon owner Transocean.
Experts have testified that too little cement was used, in addition to the cement being an unstable formula for deepwater conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. A forensic investigator testified that Transocean failed to properly maintain the blowout preventer, which ultimately failed. A Transocean worker who survived the explosion testified that alarms and fire suppression systems aboard the rig were deactivated at the time of the blowout.
Because BP was the operator and had authority over its contractors, attorneys say the oil giant shares responsibility for all of these errors. They also pin blame on BP for other critical missteps at the Macondo well, including the decisions to use too few centralizers on the rig’s riser pipe and to prematurely pump heavy drilling mud out of the well.
Every witness who has testified so far about the negative pressure test conducted just prior to the blowout has agreed that the results were misinterpreted. The misinterpretation was initially suggested by a Transocean rig worker, but BP ultimately accepted it and made the decision to proceed with the well.
While BP, Transocean and Halliburton fight for the smallest share of the blame in this trial, all parties involved agree that the deadly explosion was preventable, and that it might have been averted if any of these critical mistakes were caught in time.
BP, Investors Headed for Trial
This trial is expected to extend well into 2014, which doesn’t give BP much time to catch its breath before it has to face its investors in a Houston courtroom.
Pension plans with significant BP holdings sued the energy company after the accident, accusing them of securities fraud. Last week, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison scheduled a jury trial for Aug. 25, 2014. In addition to naming BP, the suit also names former BP CEO Tony Hayward and former head of exploration and production Douglas Suttles.
Late last year, BP pleaded guilty to obstruction of Congress and settled its criminal charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission with a $525 million fine.
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