Deepwater Horizon Manager Refuses to Testify in Spill Lawsuits

Jimmy Wayne Harrell, Transocean Ltd. (RIG)’s highest-ranking drilling employee on the Deepwater Horizon rig before it exploded and sank, refused to testify in civil lawsuits over the accident, according to court records.

Harrell, the rig’s offshore installation manager, was in charge of drilling activities on the Deepwater Horizon, which exploded April 20, 2010, while drilling a BP Plc (BP/) well off the Louisiana coast. Harrell, the point man between BP and the drilling crew, told federal investigators at public hearings in New Orleans last year that he was in command of the rig before the explosion, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

“The parties have been advised that Harrell will invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege” against self-incrimination, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan said yesterday in a status report filed in federal court in New Orleans.

The Macondo well blowout and subsequent spill led to hundreds of lawsuits against BP and its partners and contractors. Shushan is handling the scheduling of depositions for lawsuits combined in the court. A Halliburton Co. engineer last month also declined to testify, according to court filings.

Douglas Brown, Transocean’s chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon, told a joint investigative panel in May 2010 that he overheard Harrell and BP’s top employee on the rig disagreeing on how to complete the well 11 hours before it blew out.

‘Pinchers’

Brown said he heard Harrell reluctantly agree to proceed as BP wanted. “Guess that’s what we have those pinchers for,” Harrell said as he left a meeting with BP’s company man, according to Brown’s testimony to the U.S. Coast Guard’s joint marine panel on May 26, 2010.

Brown said he took Harrell’s comment as a reference to huge shear rams on the rig’s blowout prevention equipment, which are designed to clamp shut and cut off the flow of oil and gas through the drill pipe in an emergency. The blowout preventer’s rams failed to stop the rush of oil and gas when the well blew out, causing the explosion and subsequent spill.

Harrell, during his own testimony before the Coast Guard panel on May 27, 2010, denied having a “heated debate” with the BP manager the day of the blast. He said he might have complained a day earlier about the foam cement formulation being used to complete the well.

Pat Fanning, a lawyer representing Harrell, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment after regular business hours yesterday.

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).

To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com; Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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