Halliburton Engineer Declines to Testify in Oil Spill Suit

May 16 (Bloomberg) -- A Halliburton Co. engineer who said he warned BP Plc of the risk of a natural-gas surge before the Macondo well blew up has declined to testify in litigation over the incident, Transocean Ltd. said today.

Jesse Gagliano, a technical adviser who was Halliburton’s cementing engineer on the well offshore of Louisiana, “refused to testify last week” in a deposition and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, Transocean said in a court filing. Transocean asked the magistrate overseeing depositions to give the company more time to question personnel from Houston-based Halliburton.

The Macondo well blowout and the explosion that followed killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident and spill led to hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP, which owned the well, Switzerland-based Transocean, which owned the oil rig, and other partners and contractors including Halliburton.

Transocean’s filing today came as parties are seeking sworn testimony by witnesses and representatives of companies involved in the lawsuits. A trial on determining liability for the incident and subsequent spill is set for February 2012 in federal court in New Orleans. Depositions conducted by the various parties may be used in that trial and others.

BP Warning

Gagliano told the U.S. Coast Guard at a hearing last year that he warned BP five days before the explosion that its design for the well was susceptible to a “severe” natural-gas surge. He said he advised BP to assemble the well with 21 centralizers, devices used to ensure the steel pipe lining the well could be properly secured.

BP used six centralizers, according to the report on the explosion by a U.S. presidential panel.

Joshua Berman, Gagliano’s attorney, didn’t immediately return a call for comment. Donald Godwin, Halliburton’s lead trial lawyer in the litigation, declined to comment.

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: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net; Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

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