BP and Halliburton Knew Well Cement Was Unstable; U.S. Rep. Markey: “The fact that BP and Halliburton knew this cement job could fail only solidifies their liability and responsibility for this disaster”


Anyone doubting that criminal investigations are appropriate for the BP spill has to be reconsidering in light of the bombshell revelations that officials at both Halliburton and BP knew the cement was unstable but went ahead anyway – despite multiple failed tests.

The revelations from President Obama’s oil spill commission suggest that finding “gross negligence,” which dramatically increases pollution fines, will likely be a slam dunk. The new evidence also raises the specter of serious criminal charges. At what point does this blatant disregard for human life rise to some level of homicide or manslaughter?

Notes the New York Times: “The finding from commission chief counsel Fred Bartlit Jr. and his investigative team could be among the most significant to date as several investigations try to establish clear causes for the disaster, which killed 11 rig workers and fouled the Gulf with nearly 5 million barrels of oil.”

And U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), one of those who sought subpoena power for the Oil Spill Commission, sees this as a watershed finding. “The fact that BP and Halliburton knew this cement job could fail only solidifies their liability and responsibility for this disaster,” Markey said. “This is like building a car when you know the brakes could fail, but you sell the cars anyway.”

Yet, as David Hammer reports in the the Times-Picayune, these disturbing findings represent only the tip of the iceberg in regard to questions and allegations about how the rig was constructed and how it operated. He notes that issues “… have emerged from other investigations of the incident, and those remain on the table: about BP’s decisions to use potentially riskier designs for lining the well and to skip important steps in sealing the well closed, as well as BP’s alleged misinterpretation of the results of a final test of pressure in the well hole. The Oil Spill Commission may present more conclusions about those issues at a presentation scheduled for Nov. 8 in Washington.”

These findings, of course, have enormous implications. Halliburton, with its famous connection to former Vice President Dick Cheney, is seriously implicated. The report says that Halliburton only provided BP with the data from one of the three tests for which it had results before the cement was actually poured in the well. The one set of results Halliburton shared with BP was from February, two months before the accident, when the final conditions in the well and even the size of the hole were not known. The data from that test showed the cement was unstable, but when Halliburton sent the results to BP by e-mail March 8, it only sent the numbers, no analysis – and there was no indication that Halliburton mentioned it was a failed test.

Now we know why so many members of Congress were adamant that the president’s commission not have subpoena power. And we note that none of this came up during the Coast Guard hearings, which tended to focus on scaring potential whistle blowers into silence. We mark Nov. 8 – the congressional hearing date – as a red-letter day for the oil spill, because if this is what they’re telling us beforehand, then you can bet that “interim findings” document must be truly remarkable.

Check out Mr. Hammer’s detailed report, with links to the actual documents, here: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/10/oil_spill_commission_announces.html

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