Exec Insists Safety Came First Before BP Oil Spill

Posted April 9, 2013 in Crime by

Steve Robinson testifying

BP executive Steve Robinson testifies at the joint investigation hearing on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Dec. 8, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm.

An executive for oil giant BP testified today that he personally worked to improve the company’s safety culture in the years leading up to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Neil Shaw, who was BP’s head of global projects until 2009, testified about an internal BP memo that he wrote in the hopes that its message would be “cascaded through the organization.”

“Each and everyone needs to make safety their number one priority,” the memo said.

Shaw testified that when he assumed the global projects post in 2007, he established a weekly meeting of top BP executives that always began with a detailed safety briefing. He stressed that company leaders were aware of all safety infractions and the steps taken in response.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys and federal and state prosecutors allege that BP’s corporate culture valued profits and efficiency over safety, but Shaw testified BP’s leadership was “very conscious” of the potential for workers to have misconceptions about the order of priorities. Shaw said the company stressed that “everything we did around cost was not going to have any impact on safety.”

Shaw said that he was “shocked and surprised” when he learned about the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon.

Well Leaders Reported Confidence in Test Result

  Click here to read our full coverage of the trial.  

Shaw was the second BP executive to testify in the first week of BP’s defense. He followed Steve Robinson, vice president of regional wells for BP’s Gulf of Mexico region, who assisted fellow executive Mark Bly with BP’s internal investigation into the accident.

Robinson testified about interviewing Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, the two BP well site leaders aboard the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the blowout. He said that both men stated in their interviews that they believed the rig crew conducted a successful pressure test on the Macondo well just before the accident. Their misinterpretation of the pressure test result has been cited by numerous witnesses as a primary contributor to the accident.

Vidrine and Kaluza have each been charged with 11 counts of manslaughter and are awaiting trial. They are the only two individuals to have been charged in connection with the accident.

Expert Testimony Continues

BP’s first two expert witnesses also concluded their testimony today. Well control expert Morten Emilsen testified about the results of hundreds of simulations he conducted to determine exactly how the gushing oil entered the wellbore and reached the surface. His conclusion was that oil initially entered the well through a “leaking casing shoe” and flowed upward through the well casing.

Emilsen testified that the Macondo site featured a “very prolific” reservoir, and agreed with Transocean attorney Michael Doyen that its volume “contributes to a very fast unloading of the well when it’s left underbalanced and not closed in.”

Retired engineering professor Adam Bourgoyne continued his testimony from yesterday, in which he defended BP’s adherence to “standard industry practices.” Bourgoyne testified that if any one of several critical mistakes had not taken place, the blowout likely would not have occurred. He agreed that a faulty well construction, a misinterpreted pressure test, failures in well monitoring and a failure to divert the flow of oil overboard all combined to cause the deadly explosion.

“If there was no failure in detection and the kick was detected, the blowout would not have happened, almost a hundred percent probability,” Bourgoyne said.

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