News / USA

BP's Well Control Exec Had 'No Formal Training in Well-Kill Operations'

A BP cleanup crew shovels oil from a beach at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, May 24, 2010.
A BP cleanup crew shovels oil from a beach at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, May 24, 2010.
Reuters
— BP's manager in charge of controlling the Macondo blowout in 2010 was never trained to permanently plug a ruptured oil well and said in court on Wednesday that the British company was not fully prepared for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
 
On day three of the second phase of a federal trial in New Orleans over the accident in the Gulf of Mexico, BP's James Dupree also said “yes” when asked if the company was “starting from scratch” when it scrambled to stop the leak.
 
The U.S. District Court trial could lead to fines of more than $17 billion.
 
BP lawyer Mike Brock sought to show the company was as well-prepared for the leak as any other firm. He also emphasized that equipment needed to cap the well was not readily available in the industry at the time.
 
The plugging approach that eventually worked after millions of barrels of oil leaked over 87 days, a “capping stack,” took weeks to build. Capping stacks have since become crucial pieces of equipment standing by for emergencies in the Gulf as the government has tightened safety and environmental standards.
 
“I had no formal training in well-kill operations,” Dupree told the court, referring to the operation of plugging a well. He called the blowout an unprecedented, worst-case scenario. “We didn't have the equipment to attack a Macondo-type event, that's why we had to engineer so many things on the fly.”
 
“We didn't have the preparations we have today,” he continued.
 
The company's lawyers also sought to reject a central argument made by plaintiffs, which include the U.S. government, Gulf states and former contractors Transocean and Halliburton, that BP's estimates of the size of the leak were unsubstantiated and complicated efforts to control the well.
 
Internal company emails presented at the trial have shown BP saying publicly that 5,000 barrels of oil a day were leaking into the ocean when it knew up to 100,000 barrels a day could have been leaking.
 
Dupree said his team was nearly sure at one point that an early capping attempt known as a “top kill” was working - only to be dealt a stinging setback when they realized the well was still gushing.
 
“We thought we had killed the well... There was a celebration in the room,” he recalled.
 
After the failure of the top kill, which pumped heavyweight drilling mud into the well and then put junk material on top of it, BP became concerned that too much weight would cause the well to breach.
 
That prompted them to scrap another option, known as “BOP on BOP,” that would have put a blowout preventer on top of a similar device.
 
Plaintiffs have suggested “BOP on BOP” would have ended the leak sooner than the capping stack BP finally installed.
 
Dupree said safety was a concern when responding to the blowout that killed 11 men.
 
“I'm really proud of my team,” Dupree said. “We executed all those operations and nobody else got hurt,” he told the court.
 
BP's team stressed that the company's actions during the spill response were coordinated with the approval of government officials, and many of its team members had been trained to control wells.
 
When asked if BP was prepared, Lars Herbst, a top regulator for the Gulf, said he believed the company was “prepared to initially respond” to the blowout and later on “technology and procedures were developed to address that situation.”
 
Fines Hang in the Balance
 
This phase of the trial, expected to last a month, covers how much oil spewed from the well and whether efforts to stop it were adequate.
 
In the costliest scenario, the fines under the Clean Water Act could top $17 billion - an amount that would take the total liability costs beyond the $42 billion BP has set aside for clean-up, compensation and damages. The company has so far paid about $39 billion in assets to cover most of its provisions, but damages could rise. BP shares have lost a third of their value since the disaster, partly because of uncertainty over future fines.
 
The first phase of the trial, which wrapped up in April, looked at dividing blame among BP and its contractors; Transocean owned the drilling rig and Halliburton did cement work on the well.
 
The U.S. government says 4.9 million barrels were spilled, but BP says only 3.26 million barrels leaked. Both those totals include 810,000 barrels that were collected during clean-up that the judge has agreed to exclude.
 
Under the Clean Water Act, negligence can be punished with a maximum fine of $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled; a gross negligence verdict carries a potential $4,300 per barrel fine.
 
If the court judged the spill to have been 4.09 million barrels - the government's estimate less oil recovered - the price of negligence could reach $4.5 billion. Gross negligence could run to $17.6 billion.
 
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has said he will not assign penalties for BP until the third phase of the trial, expected early next year.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime bombardment, VOA correspondent finds More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid