BP trial exposing the risks of extreme offshore drilling


The ongoing BP civil trial here in New Orleans continues to expose two things: The human tragedy and sorrow of what happened aboard the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig on that night nearly four years ago, and the many blunders and greed-laced miscalculations that made it happen.

Yesterday, we heard some heartbreaking testimony from one of the rig workers who survived the explosion, Transocean tool pusher Randy Ezell:

Ezell was searching for his boots when the well blew out, and an explosion threw him about 20 feet across the room into a bulkhead. The rig was on fire.

“I was covered in all kinds of debris, and I laid there in shock for a minute,” he testified. “I was disoriented. I didn’t know where I was because the place I had lived for years, it didn’t look or feel nothing like it did before.

“And then I headed or I thought I was in the right position to find the hallway. Of course you couldn’t see, it was pitch dark and you just had to feel. And like I say, nothing felt right, but I made my way out into the hall.”

Anderson and Curtis were dead. And when he came to, Ezell was in “total darkness, and smoke filled — the entire area was filled with smoke. I knew something major, a major event had just happened, but I didn’t know if it was because my brain was knocked out of gear, or what, or trauma or what, but I laid right there for a minute.”

The worst part of reading such stories is knowing that it didn’t have to happen. Earlier testimony in the U.S. Justice Department case — seeking to prove gross negligence on the part of BP — has shown how the Big Oil icon had systematically ignored obvious signs of problems at the Deepwater Horizon site. Some of the most damning testimony strongly suggested that the well, far off the coast in a mile of deep water, should not have been drilled there in the first place:

BP’s Macondo oil and gas well was drilled in an area of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico that was prone to shallow earthquakes and whose rock formations were the fragile remains of a landslide of rubble that occurred after the end of the last Ice Age, a Scottish geoscience professor testified Monday.

Andrew Hurst, who teaches production geoscience at Aberdeen University in Scotland, worked as a geologist in the petroleum industry in the 1980s, including a stint as lead geologist for Statoil, the national oil company of Norway, at a time when it was drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurst left the oil business in the 1990s to teach geology and to continue his research on pore pressure in rock: how rock structures are affected by the pressure of fluids, including water and oil, that are in the spaces within them.

His testimony on behalf of the Plaintiffs Steering Committee representing private parties who have sued BP and its partners and companies it hired to help drill the Macondo well was aimed at showing that the companies planning the well did not adequately take into account the location’s unique geology.

It’s critical to place Hurst’s words in context, because this is a very important point. The real issue underlying all of this — as I’ve written here in the past — is America’s addiction to oil, and the increasingly extreme lengths to which we will go to maintain or even boost our domestic production. The demands of bringing fresh crude to a thirsty marketplace has overwhelmed all sense of caution, beginning with the very decision to drill in the Macondo field in the first place. Once that first bad choice was made, it was an escalating series of worse choices to keep it going.

The end result was an inevitable tragedy. We’ll continue to keep you posted on the trial

To read more of Randy Ezell’s riveting testimony, go to: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/03/transocean_toolpusher_recalls.html#incart_m-rpt-2

To check out more of geologist Andrew Hurst’s testimony on the geological problems with the Deepwater Horizon site, please read: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/03/bp_macondo_well_drilled_in_fra.html#incart_river

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • Stuart, I’ve been following your blog intermittently since the Macondo disaster, and really appreciate what you’re doing for your clients, for the Gulf, and for mother Earth. Doesn’t matter to me in the slightest if your primary motivation is to make a buck, you’re doing it the right way. Thank you.

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