BP’s Well Boss Failed to Seek Guidance on Doomed Well
BP Plc’s senior manager aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig failed to seek help from company engineers on a well-pressure test in the hours before the disaster that led to the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill.
The well-site leader aboard the rig should’ve called experts to help interpret a confusing result from a test intended to ensure the Macondo well was stable, Steve Robinson, a BP vice president, told a federal panel in Houston today. Robinson helped lead an internal probe of the April 20 catastrophe that killed 11 workers.
BP managers and employees of rig owner Transocean Ltd. should’ve noticed pressure discrepancies during a so-called negative test on the well 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, Robinson said. Those readings should’ve alerted workers that explosive gas had seeped into the well and threatened the 126-member rig crew, he said.
“On the negative test, if they thought there was something wrong, they were to call an outside party either on the vessel or on the beach,” Robinson told the eight-member U.S. Coast Guard and Interior Department joint investigation team. “We did not find any evidence a call was made.”
Donald Vidrine, the ranking well-site leader at the time of the blowout that destroyed the rig and triggered the spill, has been on administrative leave from London-based BP since the incident and has declined to testify before the federal panel. His junior counterpart on the rig that night, Robert Kaluza, also has been suspended and has refused to testify.
Yesterday, the panel heard that a Halliburton Co. technician missed key signals that the well was on the verge of blowing out while he stepped away from his monitors for coffee and a cigarette.
In addition to the loss of life and the sinking of the $365 million rig, the disaster injured 17 and spewed an estimated 4.1 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP’s investigation, released in September, found that its managers and Transocean rig workers failed to notice signals that the well was in danger as long as 40 minutes prior to the disaster. A commission appointed by President Barack Obama drew similar conclusions.
Robinson, whose previous BP assignments included Gulf of Mexico wells between 2004 and 2006, was one of two company representatives scheduled to testify today. John Sprague, a drilling engineer manager based in the company’s Houston office, was to follow.
The panel began its sixth round of hearings this week and has a March 27 deadline to submit its findings to the Coast Guard and Interior Department.
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