BP Plc (BP/) can conduct additional tests on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig’s blowout prevention equipment now that government examiners have finished their own forensic testing, a judge ruled.
“The additional BOP testing shall be performed in a manner that preserves the evidence to the maximum extent possible,’’ U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said in his order, referring to the blowout prevention equipment. He ruled that other companies involved in the disaster could also now run additional tests, so long as everyone is allowed to monitor the procedures and share in the results.
The 300-ton stack of valves failed to seal off BP’s runaway well last April, triggering a fatal rig explosion and the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. BP asked Barbier for permission to partially dismantle and conduct laser scans on the blowout preventer, which was recovered from the sea floor off the Louisiana coast last year.
“BP is clearly looking for any liability they can pin on the BOP,” said Houston lawyer Brent Coon, one of the lawyers marshalling evidence for the consolidated oil-spill damages lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the failed drilling operation, referring to the blowout preventer.
“This is BP’s way of trying to shift more of the blame for the cleanup costs onto the other companies,” Coon said in a telephone interview.
By law, BP is liable for all cleanup and restoration costs and some of the damages caused by oil spilled from its well. The company reserved more than $40 billion last year to cover these anticipated expenses, which include billions of dollars in government fines.
U.S. law allows BP to recover some of that expense from its contractors on the well, if they are proven to be partly to blame. Transocean Ltd. (RIG) owned the Deepwater Horizon, while Halliburton Energy Services, Cameron International Corp. (CAM) and Weatherford International provided key supplies or services to the well.
Government forensic investigators determined that the BOP’s ram shears failed to fully sever an off-center drill pipe that was trapped in the device, according to a report released March 23. The report didn’t assign blame for the accident to any particular company.
The U.S. conducted more than three months of tests on the BOP without doing the specific additional tests BP requested on the hydraulic system, solenoids and annular rams, according to a March 4 BP court filing.
“BP, however, believes that performance of these forensic activities will add value to an analysis of why the BOP did not work as intended,” Don Haycraft, BP’s lead defense attorney, said in papers filed in federal court in New Orleans.
Barbier ruled that custody of the BOP will remain with the government forensic team, which is comprised of investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard and offshore drilling regulators, who are coordinating with the Justice Department. The equipment isn’t to be moved from its present site at the NASA/Michoud assembly facility in eastern New Orleans.
The additional tests will be conducted by either Norwegian contractor Det Norske Veritas, which ran the original tests, or by another third-party testing firm approved by the court.
Barbier said the extra tests must be completed by June 15. He also instructed Cameron, which made the BOP, and Transocean, which was responsible for maintaining it, to share copies of their engineering drawings and specifications for the device, to aid in interpreting test results.
Cameron had initially objected to BP’s request to hand over its blueprints. At a hearing in New Orleans today, Haycraft told Barbier the companies had worked out a compromise to allow the extra tests.
The case is In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
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