The BP Plc (BP/) official who oversaw operations at the Macondo well testified he wasn’t responsible for the fatal blast that ripped through the rig and sent millions of barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
John Guide, the well-team leader for the Macondo project, denied yesterday that he made drilling decisions, including to forgo extra well stabilizers, that critics contend may have increased the chances of an explosion. Guide said those decisions were made by other BP officials.
“I don’t think I did anything to cause the blowout,” Guide told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. “I don’t think I could have done anything different.”
Lawyers for the U.S. and oil-spill victims contend in the non-jury trial that BP was over budget and behind schedule on the deep-water Macondo well off the Louisiana coast, prompting the oil company to cut corners and ignore safety tests showing the well was unstable.
Guide offered his testimony as Barbier began overseeing the eighth week of a trial in which spill victims and the U.S. are asking him to determine liability for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resulting offshore spill, the worst in U.S. history.
The April 20, 2010, blast killed 11 workers and sent waves of oil into the Gulf, killing fish and waterfowl. The accident sparked hundreds of lawsuits against well owner BP; Houston- based Halliburton Co. (HAL:US); and Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd. (RIG:US), the Deepwater Horizon’s owner.
The liability trial began Feb. 25. Barbier must decide whether one or more of the companies acted with willful or wanton misconduct or reckless indifference -- the legal requirement for establishing gross negligence.
For London-based BP, a finding of gross negligence would mean the company might be liable to the U.S. for more than $17 billion in Clean Water Act fines, as well as unspecified punitive damages to claimants who weren’t part of the $8.5 billion settlement the company reached with most private-party plaintiffs last year.
Transocean and Halliburton could be held liable for punitive damages for all plaintiffs if the companies are found to have handled their duties on the rig in a grossly negligent manner.
The government and spill victims also allege Halliburton’s cement job was defective and that Transocean employees made a series of missteps on the rig, including disabling safety systems, failing to properly maintain the installation and not adequately training its crew to handle crisis situations.
Lawyers for the government and spill victims produced witnesses earlier in the trial to testify BP officials misled federal regulators about conditions at the Macondo well and forged ahead with “unsafe and dangerous” drilling operations before the fatal explosion.
Guide, a Houston-based engineer who served as drilling superintendent of the Deepwater Horizon from April 2009 until the time of the accident, is accused of making decisions about the well’s handling that have been criticized by other witnesses in the case and in outside probes of the explosion and spill.
Steve Robinson, BP’s vice president of drilling and completion, testified last week that Guide overrode a BP engineering team’s recommendations to triple the number of stabilizers used in the well and to clear the hole of debris before it was sealed with cement.
Both procedures could have ensured a better cement job and that could have helped seal the well against leaks, multiple witnesses have said during the trial.
Guide countered in his testimony yesterday that there is no set rule on the number of stabilizers, or centralizers, required to help secure the drilling line and such equipment can make it hard for safety systems designed to prevent blowouts to operate properly.
Guide said the extra centralizers also weren’t the right type, weren’t on-site and would have taken ten hours to install, leaving the drilling hole open during that time.
“I just don’t think that’s good engineering practice,” he said. No one from the engineering team expressed concerns about forgoing the additional centralizers, Guide added.
“Was your decision, engineering judgment, based on the cost of these centralizers?” Hariklia “Carrie” Karis, a lawyer for BP, asked him. “No, not at all,” Guide answered.
In making this decision, “do you believe you were increasing the risk of a blowout?” Karis asked. “No,” Guide replied.
Robert Cunningham, an attorney for victims suing BP over damages from the worst offshore spill in U.S. history, pressed the engineer about the drilling decisions that experts have focused on in attempting to pinpoint a cause for disaster. Guide said other BP colleagues made the decisions on specific drilling issues that later were called into question.
“None of these things occurred as a result of anything you as well-team leader did or didn’t do, it was somebody else, right?” Cunningham asked. “Well, I don’t know, you know, what the conclusion was, but it wasn’t me,” Guide responded.
Guide acknowledged that as well supervisor, he was responsible for drilling operations in addition to all health and safety issues related to the project.
“So Mr. Guide, the rig, for which you were accountable for safety and operations, explodes, sinks and 11 people die, and you had nothing to do with it?” Cunningham asked. “That’s right,” the supervisor said.
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).
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