BP Engineer Called for More Questioning Before Disaster Panel

BP Plc engineer John Guide, leader of the team that oversaw drilling of the well that caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, has been summoned to testify for a second time before a federal investigative panel.

Guide is scheduled to testify Oct. 7 to the U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department board investigating the Gulf of Mexico drilling-rig blast that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill, according to a witness list reviewed by Bloomberg. The list was distributed today to representatives of companies and individuals designated as potential targets of the probe.

Guide, 52, has emerged in testimony as one of the critical decision makers in the weeks and days leading up the April 20 explosion 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast. As wells-team leader, Guide vetoed a proposal to install equipment that may have prevented the influx of explosive natural gas that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, according to internal BP memos and witnesses at previous hearings.

Guide is the third witness called to reappear out of more than 50 who’ve testified. Mark Hafle, a BP engineer who helped design the well, declined last month to testify a second time, citing his Constitutional right against self incrimination. David Sims, a BP drilling vice president, testified by telephone on May 29 and appeared in person on Aug. 26.

BP vice presidents Patrick O’Bryan and David Sims told the eight-person panel on Aug. 26 that Guide held ultimate authority for decisions regarding the structure and drilling of the Macondo well.

“If that is true, that is a huge responsibility for one position and on one man,” panel Co-Chairman Hung Nguyen said on Aug. 27.

Drilling Decisions

David J. Stetler, a Chicago lawyer representing Guide, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment. Guide didn’t respond to a telephone message left at his home in Cypress, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Guide last testified on July 22. The next round of hearings is scheduled to begin on Oct. 4 in Kenner, Louisiana. The panel has a Jan. 27 deadline for finishing its probe.

Guide, a University of Pittsburgh-trained engineer, told the panel in July that he oversaw drilling of 25 deep-water wells in the two and a half years leading up April’s blast. He was responsible for vetting each step in the drilling process from an office at BP’s campus west of downtown Houston.

Four days before Macondo erupted, Guide overruled recommendations by BP engineer Gregory Walz and a Halliburton Co. technician to more than triple the number of centralizers used to keep the well’s metal casing pipe centered while cement was poured around the sides, according to an April 16 e-mail written by Guide.

Centralizer Issue

Failure to use more centralizers left the well susceptible to “severe gas flow potential,” a report to BP by Houston- based Halliburton warned that day.

On April 16, Walz told Guide that London-based BP should heed Halliburton’s advice, according to the e-mails entered into evidence by the panel. Walz wrote to Guide that 15 additional centralizers would be shipped to the rig from Houston by helicopter later that day.

Guide objected to using the extra centralizers, saying they were not of the design described by Walz, the e-mails showed. During his July 22 appearance before the investigative panel, Guide said he rejected the recommendation to use 21 centralizers because he was concerned they could be difficult to retrieve from the hole if the pipe got stuck on its way down and had to be removed.

An internal investigation by BP found that using the smaller number of centralizers increased the risk of gaps in the cement, according to a report the company released on Sept. 8. The centralizers “likely did not contribute” to the cement’s failure to prevent gas from surging to the surface, BP said in the report.

To contact the reporters on this story: Joe Carroll in Chicago at jcarroll8@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net.

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