Deep-water drilling engineer John Guide helped orchestrate BP Plc’s climb during the past decade to largest producer of Gulf of Mexico crude.
Then the Macondo well erupted on his watch, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
After months of hearings and media reports focusing on other participants in the April disaster, Guide, 52, is emerging as one of the critical decision-makers. According to internal company memos and testimony at recent hearings, it was Guide who vetoed a proposal to install equipment that may have kept explosive natural gas from seeping into the well and jetting up to the floating rig.
“As they continue their investigation and more evidence surfaces, he may find himself asked to return and provide additional answers,” said Anthony Sabino, an oil and gas law professor at St. John’s University in New York who’s been following the hearings. “It’s going to continue to be difficult for him individually and professionally.”
Guide, with more than 10 years experience drilling for oil deep in the ocean, was in charge of vetting each step in the drilling process aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Working from an office at BP’s campus west of downtown Houston, Guide overruled recommendations from a BP engineer and a Halliburton Co. technician to more than triple the number of centralizers used in the well, according to an April 16 e-mail written by Guide. Centralizers keep the pipe in the middle of the well while cement is poured around the sides.
Failure to use more centralizers left the well susceptible to “severe gas flow potential,” a Halliburton report to BP had warned that day. Four days later, the well exploded.
“He was devastated when this happened,” Patricia Klug, Guide’s sister, said in a telephone interview. “You will never meet someone who cares more about his work or the people he works with.”
Guide didn’t respond to requests for interviews. David J. Stetler, an attorney with Stetler & Duffy Ltd. in Chicago, confirmed he is representing Guide and declined to comment further.
“To deflect attention away from its potential role in the well blowout, Halliburton has tried to focus the public’s attention on the number of centralizers used by BP in the Macondo well,” BP said in a statement. “But the personnel that Halliburton trusted to design and implement the cement job have made one point abundantly clear at the Marine Board of Investigation hearings: They did not deem the cement job on the well to be unsafe even with the use of six centralizers -- nor did they believe there was a risk of a well blowout.”
What happened with the centralizers figured in testimony before a joint panel of the U.S. Coast Guard and Interior Department in Houston this week. Today, panel Co-Chairman Hung Nguyen said two BP vice presidents directed blame toward Guide when they answered questions yesterday.
“What was interesting to me is that both Mr. Patrick O’Bryan and Mr. David Sims have pointed at John Guide, the wells-team leader, as decision maker,” said Nguyen, a Coast Guard captain. “If that is true, that is a huge responsibility for one position and on one man.”
Jesse Gagliano, the Halliburton technical adviser assigned to help design the cement plan for the Macondo discovery, testified on Aug. 24 that he warned London-based BP of the danger of using too few centralizers. BP would be running the risk of allowing channels to form in the cement outside the pipe, creating openings for explosive gas to shoot toward the surface, Gagliano told the panel.
On April 16, BP engineer Gregory Walz told Guide that the company should heed Gagliano’s warnings, according to the e-mails entered into evidence by the panel. Walz wrote to Guide that 15 additional centralizers located in Houston would be shipped to the rig 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. “Also, it will take 10 hours to install them,” Guide said in the e-mail to Walz. Guide approved using six centralizers.
David Sims, Guide’s boss in BP’s drilling and completion operations unit, yesterday testified that Guide never personally told him of Halliburton’s warning about the risks associated with using fewer than 21 centralizers.
Sims, who had been promoted to his current job 18 days before the well erupted, told the panel he hadn’t read all of the April 15-16 e-mails detailing Halliburton’s concerns and the debate between Guide and his engineers.
BP could have put the project on hold to allow time to locate more centralizers and ship them to the rig, Sims testified.
“I don’t make the ultimate call on that anyway,” he said. “It’s John’s decision.”
Guide’s only public remarks on the explosion came on July 22, when he appeared before the Coast Guard-Interior panel. When he was asked about the 10-hours reference, Guide said, “I didn’t think it was prudent to take 10 hours to install the wrong pieces of equipment.”
Guide told the panel 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.
A similar problem had occurred a few days earlier at BP’s Atlantis field in the Gulf, according to a transcript of his testimony.
“I think Mr. Guide has accountability to execute the well plan,” Brett Cocales, a BP engineer who was a member of Guide’s team before the catastrophe, told the Coast Guard panel today. “I don’t think he’s the only one accountable.” Cocales didn’t say who else he had in mind.
Guide grew up in the Monongahela River town of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) southeast of Pittsburgh, where he excelled in mathematics, science and tennis at McKeesport High School, said his sister Klug, a creative director for a Pittsburgh advertising agency.
He followed in his father’s footsteps by studying engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and was recruited by Conoco Inc. upon graduation. Conoco, which since then has been made part of ConocoPhillips, dispatched him to Louisiana, where he met his wife, Mary, a geologist, Klug said.
In the early 1990s, Guide was back in Pennsylvania, working for Meridian Exploration Corp. of Pittsburgh, according to a company press release from that time. He later joined Vastar Resources Inc., a Houston oil and gas company.
Guide racked up a series of successes at Vastar as part of a team that pushed exploration into deeper and deeper realms of the Gulf of Mexico. Their discoveries included Mad Dog in 1998 beneath 4,862 feet (1,482 meters) of water; Holstein in 4,341 feet the following year; and Horn Mountain under 5,400 feet in 1999, according to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
BP, seeking to expand its deep-ocean exploration capabilities amid rising competition from Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron Corp., acquired Vastar in 2000, bringing Guide and his colleagues on board.
After being promoted to wells-team leader for the Deepwater Horizon in October 2007, Guide oversaw the drilling of 25 wells across a 700-mile wide swath of the Gulf of Mexico, according to his testimony last month.
Among them, starting in 2009, was the Macondo.