Bloomberg News

BP Says Halliburton Destroyed Evidence in Gulf Spill Case

December 06, 2011

(Updates with Halliburton comment in fifth paragraph.)

Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc accused a unit of Halliburton Co. of intentionally destroying evidence that could be used to prove the oilfield services firm shares blame for the blowout that caused the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Halliburton Energy Services Inc. destroyed test results that showed samples of the cement used to seal London-based BP’s Macondo well, which exploded off the Louisiana coast last year, were unstable, BP said in a filing today in federal court in New Orleans.

The oilfield services provider also suppressed computer models that might prove Halliburton was at fault “because it wanted to eliminate any risk that this evidence would be used against it at trial,” BP said in the filing.

BP asked the court to find that Halliburton destroyed evidence on purpose and to compel the company to turn over for third-party examination the computer used for the modeling.

“Halliburton is reviewing the details of the motion filed today,’’ Beverly Stafford, a Halliburton spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “However, we believe that the conclusion that BP is asking the court to draw is without merit, and we look forward to contesting their motion in court.’’

Eleven Dead

BP and Halliburton are suing each other over which company’s actions and decisions caused the blowout, which killed 11 workers and sparked the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The two companies face more than 350 lawsuits by coastal property owners and businesses claiming billions in damages from the spill.

Halliburton has raised two primary defenses against allegations it shares blame for the blowout, BP said in the filing. First, the contractor maintains its foaming cement formula was stable and performed as designed, BP said. Second, Halliburton claims BP chose to use too few “centralizers” to keep the pipe aligned in the well, which allowed hydrocarbons to escape through channels that formed in the cement liner, BP said.

BP said Halliburton witnesses and documents uncovered in pretrial proceedings undercut both defenses.

Rickey Morgan, a Halliburton employee who conducted post- incident testing on Macondo cement slurry samples at the company’s lab in Duncan, Oklahoma, “testified under oath that he destroyed test results in order to keep the information from being ‘misinterpreted’ in ways adverse to Halliburton in litigation,’’ BP said in today’s filing.

‘Thin’ Slurry

According to BP, Morgan testified that during tests the slurry mixture separated, instead of foaming as designed, and looked “thin’’ to him, an indicator of potential instability. Morgan said he didn’t take notes of the tests and dumped out his samples partly because he feared the results could be harmful to the company in court, BP said.

When a second Halliburton lab replicated Morgan’s tests with similar results, lab employees also “destroyed records of the testing as well as the physical cement samples used in the testing,’’ BP said.

Halliburton’s in-house labs used up all samples of the slurries and chemical additives actually used in the well, which prevented third-party labs from conducting precise tests, BP said.

Even though it couldn’t provide any actual samples, the contractor has maintained that post-incident tests conducted by outside labs are unreliable because they use simulated cement slurries and additives, BP said.

‘At Best, Lost’

BP also said Halliburton “has, at best, lost’’ computer data that undermine a claim that fatal channels formed in the cement because BP didn’t use enough centralizers.

Tommy Roth, vice president in charge of Halliburton’s cement operations, said in an e-mail three months after the blowout that a company computer model “demonstrates that there was no channeling in the Macondo well,’’ according to BP’s filing.

BP said that it didn’t get a copy of Roth’s message until July of this year and that it never received copies of the computer models Roth referenced. Instead, Halliburton told BP the computer modeling results at issue are “gone,’’ said BP.

BP asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who presides over the consolidated oil-spill litigation in New Orleans, to order Halliburton to give the computer used in the modeling to a third-party forensic data recovery firm, to see if the missing evidence can be recovered.

BP also asked Barbier to consider levying sanctions against Halliburton, such as barring the company from using certain evidence or defenses at trial or even dismissing its claims against BP.

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).

--With assistance from Allen Johnson Jr. in New Orleans and Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan. Editors: Andrew Dunn, Mary Romano

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

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


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