E-mail from BP rig says cement job ‘went well’


A Halliburton employee on the Deepwater Horizon sent an e-mail to a colleague on the day the rig exploded indicating that cementing of the well had been completed and “it went well”.

The e-mail exchange, which has been seen by the Financial Times, will add to a growing debate about the decisions taken in the run-up to the cementing of the well before its rupture on April 20, which led to 11 workers being killed and a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Investigators have questioned whether the cement’s failure may have been one of the root causes of the disaster.

The e-mail, by cementer Nathaniel Chaisson, to Jesse Gagliano, Halliburton’s account representative, was sent in the early morning of April 20.

Three days after the explosion, on April 23, Mr Gagliano sent an e-mail to Mark Hafle, senior drilling engineer at BP, which operated the well, attaching the “post job” report from the “engineer in location”. The report detailed items including that the cement job was “pumped as planned”.

Testifying on Tuesday in an investigation of the accident by the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Management, Mr Gagliano clarified that in Halliburton staff discussing a job well done, they were referring to the company having done what it was directed to do. He was not commenting on whether Halliburton approved of what was done.

Mr Gagliano has been put under pressure by BP lawyers about the fact that nowhere in the job recommendation report did he say they should use 21 centralisers to hold the casing centrally in the borehole, which he said was true. But Mr Gagliano said he raised the issue of centralisers with BP on April 15.

He said he sent a report “indicating 21 centralisers would take care of the issues of channelling”.

Much of the scrutiny so far has been on BP, which has come under fire for allegedly taking decisions aimed at cutting costs in relation to the cementing. In a June letter sent to Tony Hayward, BP’s departing chief executive, Bart Stupak, chairman of the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations, and Henry Waxman, chairman of the House committee on energy and commerce, detailed several e-mail exchanges between BP and Halliburton employees in the run-up to the cement being pumped.

The congressmen singled out BP’s apparent failure to use sufficient centralisers. Halliburton, they claimed, warned BP that the well could have a “severe gas flow problem” if it used only six instead of 21 centralisers.

Indeed, in a separate e-mail exchange between BP employees, obtained on Tuesday by the FT, members of BP’s drilling team discussed flying in an additional 15 centralisers overnight on April 16 to bolster the number. According to an e-mail from Gregory Walz, BP drilling engineering team leader: “I wanted to make sure that we did not have a repeat of the last Atlantis job with questionable centralisers going into the hole.’’

Atlantis is the BP platform in the gulf that also has been criticised – rebutted by BP – over alleged unsafe practices.

Yet the additional centralisers were not used.

In response to FT questions about the e-mails, Halliburton said it was “confident” the work it performed on the Macondo well “was completed in accordance with the well owner’s specifications”.

It added: “Halliburton raised concerns about the number of centralisers to be run and made recommendations regarding the cementing services provided; however, ultimately, Halliburton acted on the decisions of and at the explicit direction of the well owner.”

BP said in a statement: “Halliburton was fully aware of the decision to use six centralisers to centre the long string production casing in the Macondo well. With this knowledge firmly in hand, Halliburton executed its proposed cementing plan and later reported to BP that the job had pumped as planned. If Halliburton harboured any significant concerns about the safety of the operation, then it had the moral and legal responsibility to refuse to perform the job.”

Indeed, employees of both Halliburton and Transocean, the rig owner, testified they could have stopped work at any time had they felt it was unsafe. Neither did.

Separately, an employee on the rig testified that its owner Transocean had no plan to fight the fire that raged for days after the explosion. The company flooded the rig with so much water that salvagers warned it would sink.

“We did not have a plan to put the fire out,” said Daun Winslow, Transocean performance manager, who was in charge of the fire once the rig was abandoned and until the salvagers took over. He said water was pumped to cool equipment.

Mr Winslow said he was told on April 21 that “shore base” had concerns about the amount of water being pumped. He did not think it would lead it to sink but he was on a nearby rescue boat and could not see how much water was pumped. The salvagers arrived on April 22 at 6am but the rig sank later that morning.

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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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