A Halliburton Co. safety executive testified he didn’t authorize post-explosion tests on the type of cement used on the BP Plc well that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico and was surprised when he heard about them a year later.
BP contends the tests were intentionally discarded amid a Halliburton employee’s fear of litigation and despite protective orders following the disaster. Houston-based Halliburton provided cementing services for the well, which exploded in April 2010, setting off the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Tommy Roth, Halliburton vice president, said at trial today in New Orleans that these tests weren’t authorized and he didn’t know about them when he testified three times before the U.S. Congress in 2010 about the company’s role on the doomed Macondo well. Under cross-examination today by a BP lawyer, Roth said he learned in April 2011 that a Halliburton employee had conducted unauthorized tests and in 2012 that the results were discarded.
“I was surprised,” Roth said today.
The blowout and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers and spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident sparked hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP, owner of the well; Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd., owner of the Deepwater Horizon; and Houston-based Halliburton.
The nonjury trial over liability for the disaster began Feb. 25. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will determine responsibility and whether one or more of the companies acted with willful or wanton misconduct or reckless indifference -- the legal requirement for establishing gross negligence.
Lawyers for the government and spill victims contend BP was over budget and behind schedule on the Macondo deep-water drilling project off the Louisiana coast, prompting the company to cut corners and ignore safety tests showing the well was unstable.
They also allege Halliburton’s cement job was defective and Transocean employees made a series of missteps on the rig, including disabling safety systems, failing to properly maintain the installation and leaving the crew untrained for crisis situations.
BP sued its contractors, claiming Transocean workers’ miscues were the main cause of the explosion and that Halliburton officials concealed flaws with cement work done on the drilling project. Transocean and Halliburton countersued, pointing the finger back at BP on liability issues.
Halliburton has withheld information about the cement job from BP, the oil company has claimed. In a filing today, the company said Halliburton failed to provide Macondo well cement samples to BP following repeated requests after the spill.
BP also contends that Halliburton conducted its own tests and threw them out, never providing the results to anyone.
BP alleged in a December 2011 court filing that Halliburton employee Rickey Morgan reported a discarded test to lab supervisor Ron Faul, who then ordered employee Tim Quirk to verify the stability of the cement slurry delivered to Macondo, but not to create a record of the test or its results.
After the blast, Roth testified today, Faul, Quirk and Morgan didn’t tell him about the cement company’s post-incident tests.
Roth said he didn’t ask Faul to test the cement job Halliburton used on the Deepwater Horizon. He also didn’t ask Faul not to test the cement slurry, Roth said. Faul had reported to him about the cement used in the project, Roth said today in his second day of testimony.
“He saw no unusual elements that would raise any significant concerns,” Roth said of Faul’s e-mailed report. “He said it looked like a good job.”
Another Halliburton executive, Tim Probert, testified yesterday that he learned in 2012 that the unauthorized tests had been discarded.
Brad Brian, a Transocean attorney, asked Probert yesterday whether he was angry when he was told two years later that the tests had been destroyed.
“Yeah. Obviously it doesn’t make you feel happy,” Probert replied.
Gregg Perkin, an engineering expert for the plaintiffs, testified today that the well could have been shut down after the explosion and before the spill if the blow-out preventer had an acoustic-monitoring device.
Perkin said the acoustic monitoring device was “offered” to Transocean and BP several years before the rig blast. The companies declined, he testified.
At the time of the explosion, the device was required in oil fields of the North Sea and Brazil and not in the Gulf of Mexico, Jim Williamson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in trial today.
Perkin agreed the acoustic device wasn’t required by regulators in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s been well established the blow-out preventer met all of its certification and maintenance requirements,” Jared Allen, a Transocean spokesman, said after Perkin testified.
The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, 10-md-02179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).