Blowout preventer readied to test


Testing of the blowout preventer on the Transocean Ltd. rig that exploded April 20 and unleashed the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could begin as soon as next week, a Justice Department official told attorneys involved in the spill litigation Friday.

Right now, the blowout preventer — the device that was supposed to shut down the rig in an emergency — remains outside NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility while pads are being built to support its weight. While that’s being done, investigators are removing loose pipe from the device. After that, they will begin building a structure around the blowout preventer to house it, which U.S. Department of Justice attorney Mike Underhill warned will be expensive.

The Justice Department believes that taking the time to do it right will ultimately save time and cut down on disputes in the litigation.

“Overall, their concern is doing it right to the benefit of all parties,” Underhill said.

Because the testing will take longer than the court anticipated, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over the more than 300 lawsuits consolidated in New Orleans dealing with the spill, last week delayed plans for the trial to assign percentages of fault by four months, to Feb. 27, 2012.

On Friday, Barbier asked the U.S. government to make sure that it was doing everything it could to keep the process moving.

“My experience is that if they tell me something is going to be done in six weeks, I can usually double it,” Barbier said in the second meeting of attorneys in the consolidated oil spill litigation Friday morning.

Barbier also said the first test trial over claims that individuals and businesses have filed against BP, the well lease-holder, under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, could take place as soon as June 2011.

Meanwhile, Barbier granted permission to Halliburton Energy Services Inc. to turn over cementing components left over from the company’s April 19 cementing job at the Transocean rig, which exploded in flames the following day, killing 11 workers and unleashing a torrent of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Halliburton has been asked to turn over all reports related to its cementing work at BP’s Macondo well site to back up Aug. 23 testimony from cementing engineer Jesse Gagliano.

Last week, Barbier chose 15 plaintiff attorneys to serve on a committee that will steer the direction of the litigation. Five local attorneys are serving on the committee: Philip F. Cossich Jr. of Belle Chasse, Calvin C. Fayard Jr. of Denham Springs, Matthew E. Lundy of Lake Charles, Michael C. Palmintier of Baton Rouge and Paul M. Sterbcow of New Orleans.

Scott Summy, a Dallas attorney hired by Gov. Bobby Jindal to represent the state in its natural resource damage assessment, was also named to the committee.

That position conflicts with the wishes of Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who, along with the Justice Department and the state of Mississippi, want governmental entities to have their own track in the litigation out of concerns over sovereignty and out of fear that the governmental entities may get bamboozled into sharing any winnings with private plaintiff counsel. A hearing on that issue has been scheduled for Oct. 27.

On Thursday, the corporate defendants filed a plan for 13 attorneys representing different companies to serve on the parallel defense steering committee, and for nine attorneys to serve as defense liaison counsel governing their side of the litigation.

Meanwhile, Transocean has been holding settlement conferences on injury and death claims with a magistrate judge, and would like to expand talks. “We’d like to put the word out, we would invite more conferences,” said Kerry Miller, a New Orleans attorney representing Transocean.

The next status conference in the oil spill litigation is set for Nov. 19 at 9 a.m.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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