1st witness testifies in Gulf oil spill trial

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2013 at 3:38 pm •  Published: February 26, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP failed to implement a new safety plan on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig even though the company realized a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was its greatest danger, an expert witness for people and businesses suing the company testified Tuesday.

University of California-Berkeley engineering professor Robert Bea was the first witness at a civil trial to determine how much more BP and other companies should pay for the spill. Bea said BP PLC didn't implement a two-year-old safety management program on the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"It's a classic failure of management and leadership in BP," said Bea, a former BP consultant who also investigated the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and New Orleans levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The London-based company has said its "Operating Management System" was designed to drive a rigorous and systematic approach to safety and risk management. During cross-examination by a BP lawyer, Bea said the company made "significant efforts" to improve safety management as early as 2003.

However, BP only implemented its new safety plan at just one of the seven rigs the company owned or leased in the Gulf at the time of the disaster.

Bea said it was "tragic" and "egregious" that BP didn't apply its own safety program to the Deepwater Horizon before the Macondo well blowout triggered the explosion that killed 11 workers and spawned the massive spill. Transocean owned the rig; BP leased it.

BP lawyer Mike Brock said the company allows contractors like Transocean to take the primary responsibility for the safety of rig operations as long as the contractor's safety system is compatible with BP's — an arrangement that Brock suggested is a standard industry practice.

As he questioned Bea, Brock also recited a long list of steps that BP took to improve safety, citing them as evidence that the company wasn't "cutting corners in the area of safety."

A plaintiffs' lawyer showed Bea a transcript of a deposition of Tony Hayward, who was BP's CEO at the time of the disaster. Hayward was asked if the deadly April 20, 2010, blowout could have been averted if BP had implemented the safety management program in the Gulf.

"There is possible potential," Hayward responded. "Undoubtedly."

Bea's testimony opened the second day of a civil trial that could result in BP and its partners being forced to pay billions of dollars more in damages. The case went to trial Monday after attempts to reach an 11th-hour settlement failed.

The second witness slated to appear was Lamar McKay, president of BP America at the time of the disaster. But it wasn't clear if there would be time for testimony late Tuesday from McKay, who became chief executive of BP's Upstream unit on Jan. 1. Other BP officials were expected to give videotaped testimony.

Bea said BP's "culture of every dollar counts" was reflected in a May 2009 email sent by BP well team leader John Guide: "The DW Horizon embraced every dollar matters since I arrived 18 months ago," Guide wrote. "We have saved BP millions and no one had to tell us."

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