Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc engineer John Guide was the “de facto leader” of the team that oversaw the well that caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, according to a U.S. presidential panel’s investigative report.
Guide was named 14 times in the 380-page report issued today by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, more than any other BP manager or executive, including former Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward, who was ousted from the leadership of Europe’s second-largest energy company in October.
The report is the second federal review to find that Guide was responsible for vetoing design elements that could have prevented the spill. The panel’s report follows the U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department hearings last year in attempting to unwind the organizational structure of BP and the other companies involved in the Macondo well.
“There’s a magnifying glass on all of the companies involved to figure out where does responsibility ultimately lie,” said Gianna Bern, founder of Brookshire Advisory and Research Inc., a Chicago-based firm that provides risk-management advice to energy companies. “It’s very hard to ascertain within an organization of this size who should have been doing what when.”
Justice Department officials are investigating the individuals and companies involved in the disaster to determine whether criminal charges are justified.
The “fairly complex” organizational structure of BP and other companies involved in the Macondo project has made it more difficult for regulators and investigators to pinpoint individual blame, said Bern, a former BP crude trader.
Guide emerged last year during hearings of a U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department board as one of the critical decision makers in the weeks leading up to the disaster that killed 11 rig workers 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast. As wells-team leader, Guide was responsible for vetting and approving each step in the design and drilling of the well.
Guide vetoed a proposal to install equipment that may have prevented explosive natural gas from seeping into the well, the presidential panel said in today’s report.
Only Brian Morel, a drilling engineer who was lower-ranking than Guide in BP’s chain of command, was mentioned more often in the report. Morel, who was named 17 times, was aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig during the April 20 disaster and was among the 115 survivors who escaped on life boats or by jumping into the sea.
The report’s singling out of Guide comes five days after Co-Chairman William Reilly said BP was the "centrally responsible company in the Macondo blowout."
Guide, a University of Pittsburgh-trained engineer, led the $154.6 million Macondo project from an office complex in Houston at the time of the April 20 blowout that left 17 workers injured and destroyed the $365 million vessel. The well leaked crude into the Gulf for 87 days, shutting thousands of square miles of fishing grounds and beaches, before it was capped.
Four days before the explosion, Guide overruled recommendations by BP and Halliburton Co. technicians 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, the panel said, citing internal BP memos.
Halliburton, the Houston-based provider of cement for the well, warned BP that failure to use more centralizers left the well susceptible to a gas influx. BP engineer Gregory Walz urged Guide to heed Halliburton’s advice and told his boss that 15 additional centralizers could be shipped to the rig, the panel said.
Guide rejected the plan to use the extra centralizers, saying they were the wrong design, the panel said.
“The process by which BP arrived at the decision to use only six centralizers at Macondo illuminates the flaws in BP’s management and design procedures, as well as poor communication between BP and Halliburton,” the panel said in today’s report.
In testimony before the joint Coast Guard-Interior Department board in August, BP vice presidents Patrick O’Bryan and David Sims singled out Guide as holding ultimate authority for decisions regarding the structure and drilling of the Macondo well.
At the time, Coast Guard Captain Hung Nguyen, co-chairman of the eight-person board, said the testimony indicated Guide bore “a huge responsibility.”
David J. Stetler, a Chicago lawyer representing Guide, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message today seeking comment on the presidential panel’s report.
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