Judge Dismisses Some Claims, But BP Trial Goes On

Posted March 20, 2013 in Crime by

Oil rig and vessels gathered near the Deepwater Horizon explosion

Vessels gather around an oil platform adjacent to the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Barry Bena.)

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier dismissed claims today against the contractor that supplied oil giant BP with drilling fluid, but denied most other dismissal requests from defendants in the civil trial over the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill.

M-I SWACO, BP’s drilling fluid contractor, was let completely off the hook after plaintiffs rested their case without blaming the company for contributing to the Macondo well blowout. Two of M-I SWACO’s employees were among the 11 men killed in the explosion.

“You’re home free,” Barbier told M-I SWACO attorney Hugh Tanner.

Barbier also granted a measure of relief to Cameron International, manufacturer of Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, by insulating it from punitive damages. Barbier said that plaintiffs’ attorneys failed to show “in any way a finding of gross negligence or willful misconduct” against Cameron, but the company could still be held liable for other damages.

BP and its contractors Transocean and Halliburton, however, lost their bids for dismissal. Barbier said that trial testimony had established “at least negligence” on behalf of the trio, but he won’t decide if any of the companies are guilty of “gross negligence” until the end of May, at the earliest. A gross negligence verdict would mean a nearly fourfold increase in fines under the Clean Water Act.

‘Ready to be Done With This Well’

  Click here to read our full coverage of the trial.  

Transocean’s expert witness on deepwater drilling, Calvin Barnhill, testified today that the Deepwater Horizon’s crew didn’t throw caution to the wind, but was eager to finish drilling the well.

“I didn’t see an indication that I thought where someone was rushing to achieve an outcome,” Barnhill testified. “But I did get an overall sense in looking at the way things were transpiring and the way — in my sense the way decisions were getting made that they were ready to get through with this job. They were wanting to get through it, they were moving to get through with it, and they were ready to be done with this well.”

Under cross-examination by BP’s lead attorney, Mike Brock, Barnhill was asked to clarify that he found no evidence suggesting that schedule and budget overruns influenced the crew to rush the job.

“My sense were that they got ahead of themselves, but I don’t think they were doing it from the standpoint that they felt like they were compromising on safety,” Barnhill testified.

Halliburton lab technician Timothy Quirk also concluded testimony about tests he ran on cement samples based on the blend used in the Macondo well. Quirk testified yesterday that he was asked to perform the tests but to not record his findings.

The blend Quirk tested was the “same recipe” as the Macondo blend, he testified, including an additive called D-Air that eliminates air pockets in the cement slurry. But the blend was designed to be a foam cement, and Quirk said in a 2011 deposition that this made the cement “thin.”

“I wouldn’t have recommended putting D-Air in a slurry design,” Quirk testified today, noting that the blend used at the Macondo well was “not a common slurry.”

New Charges for BP Engineer

As the focus of the civil trial shifts to the defense, former BP engineer Kurt Mix faces new charges from a grand jury in the same courthouse. Mix is accused of deleting more than 50 voicemails from BP supervisors and contractors so that they wouldn’t be discovered in the grand jury investigation.

Last April, Mix was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting hundreds of text messages believed to be relevant to BP’s estimates of the amount of oil flowing from the out-of-control Macondo well.  

BP pleaded guilty to one count of felony obstruction of Congress last year in its criminal settlement, conceding that BP executives misled federal investigators and manipulated well flow estimates to understate the extent of the environmental catastrophe.

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

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