BP Pressured Rig Worker to Hurry Before Disaster, Father Says

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Workers clean oil from the beach with a dead fish in the foreground at the Grand Isle East State Park on May 27, 2010. Close

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Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Workers clean oil from the beach with a dead fish in the foreground at the Grand Isle East State Park on May 27, 2010.

The highest-ranking crew member to perish aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig warned his family that BP Plc was pressuring him to sacrifice safety for the sake of time and money, his father said.

Jason Anderson, one of 11 rig workers presumed dead after an April 20 explosion and fire sank the Deepwater Horizon and triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history, told relatives in February and March that BP was urging him to accelerate work on the Macondo well off the Louisiana coast, said his father, Billy Anderson.

On previous wells drilled with the same rig, Jason Anderson, a 35-year-old employee of vessel owner Transocean Ltd., had been able to convince BP representatives to eschew shortcuts that he believed would compromise safety, his father said. But in the eight weeks preceding the disaster, BP stepped up the pressure and overruled safety objections, Billy Anderson, 66, said.

“My Jason told me he had argued BP down a few times on previous wells when they wanted him to speed things up and make changes that were unsafe,” Billy Anderson said yesterday in an interview at his home near Blessing, Texas, about 110 miles southwest of Houston. “But the last two times he was home he said they were putting more and more pressure on him and he was worried.”

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A pelican tries to clean its wings while standing on a rock near Grand Isle, Louisiana, on May 27, 2010. Photographer Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Anderson family has retained Texas attorney Ernest Cannon to represent their interests.

The Explosion

Billy Anderson said surviving crew members have told him that on the night of the disaster, his son was on a part of the rig called the drilling floor, directing eight other Transocean workers in an effort to control a surge of pressure flowing up from the well head about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the sea surface.

All nine were within a few feet of the pipe connecting the rig to the sea floor when it erupted, killing them and two workers employed by M-I Swaco, a joint venture of Smith International Inc. and Schlumberger Ltd., Billy Anderson said.

BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward told the CNN television network on May 26 that “a whole series of failures” preceded the disaster.

“Safe, reliable operations are our number one,” Jon Pack, a spokesman for London-based BP, said today in a telephone interview. “It’s been Tony’s number one since he got here, and we obviously would not comment on things under investigation, under several investigations.”

22.8 Million Gallons

BP, the largest oil producer in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, yesterday began trying to stanch the flow of millions of gallons of crude by forcing fluids heavier than oil into its damaged well. A government panel estimates the leaks may have spewed 542,000 barrels, or 22.8 million gallons, of crude into the sea, more than twice the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989.

Jason Anderson talked of his concerns about BP putting rising pressure on the crew to bypass safety precautions during the seven-day shore visits he was allowed between three-week stints aboard the Deepwater Horizon, said Billy Anderson, who’s been involved in the oilfield-services equipment industry for 35 years.

In a statement, Transocean said its workers have the right to stop work any time they perceive an unsafe situation. “So critical is safety at Transocean that every crewmember has stop work authority,” the company said in the statement. This authority gives them the ability to halt work should an employee suspect an unsafe situation.

Saved Lives

In discussions with some of the 115 rig workers who were rescued after the blast, Billy Anderson said he learned that his son’s efforts during the final minutes to control the pressure surge saved scores of lives.

“My boy was cremated,” Billy Anderson said. “But the actions he and those other 10 heroes took are what made it possible for more than 100 other people to escape with their lives.”

Jason Anderson was a toolpusher, an offshore drilling job akin to foreman on a construction site, which gave him responsibility for overseeing the workers involved in the nuts- and-bolts of drilling and finishing wells.

Anderson had worked aboard the Deepwater Horizon since it was launched from a South Korean shipyard in 2001, his father said. Once the vessel arrived in the Gulf of Mexico, he worked alongside exploration specialists from BP, which had the rig under lease for all of its existence. Prior to that, he was assigned to the Cajun Express, another of Geneva-based Transocean’s most sophisticated rigs.

Father of Two

Shortly before last month’s disaster, Anderson had been promoted to senior toolpusher and was scheduled to transfer to his new post aboard another rig, the Discoverer Spirit, by helicopter at 7 a.m. on April 21. The Deepwater Horizon exploded nine hours before his flight was due to lift off.

Anderson, a father of two and a former high school football middle linebacker, started working aboard offshore rigs in 1995, scraping paint from below the water line, the lowest-ranking job on a rig.

His father thought the grueling labor would convince his son to study harder after two lackluster years of junior college. Instead, Jason Anderson decided he enjoyed being offshore and began working his way up to jobs of increasing responsibility, his father said.

“He loved his work and thought of his crewmates as family,” said Billy Anderson. “He was the kind of son a man wants and loves and hopes his son will be.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Carroll in Blessing, Texas, at jcarroll8@bloomberg.net; Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

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