BP Failed to Fix Key Device Before Blast, Official Testifies


KENNER, La. — BP failed to fix a leak from a critical safety device in the final days before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, a company official testified on Tuesday.

Drilling was allowed to continue despite a leak on a control pod connected to the blowout preventer, an emergency mechanism that failed to activate after the disaster, said Ronald Sepulvado, a BP well site leader. He testified that he expected BP officials in Houston and the federal Minerals Management Service to respond to the leak, but they did not do so before the April 20 disaster.

“I assumed everything was O.K., because I reported it to the team leader and he should have reported it to M.M.S.,” Mr. Sepulvado said.

He could not explain why the company did not respond to his report.

His testimony came at an investigative hearing in this New Orleans suburb conducted by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which used to be the minerals service.

Investigators also pressed Mr. Sepulvado about two audits that found problems with other equipment on the Deepwater Horizon and the well it was drilling, including the blowout preventer, known as a BOP.

“In both of those audits, it indicated that the BOP was well past” its inspection date, said Jason Mathews, a panel member. Asked whether he realized that the manufacturer of the blowout preventer required that the device undergo specific tests every five years, Mr. Sepulvado said, “No, I did not.”

The audits of the rig were conducted by BP in September 2009 and by the American Petroleum Institute in April 2010. The company’s audit identified problems with the rig’s engines, ballast systems, thrusters and drilling equipment, and as a result, BP scheduled the rig for a shipyard visit in early 2011.

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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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