Oil spill hearings: Safety procedure was unfamiliar to BP worker in charge


The BP employee who wrote the procedure for installing a protective lockdown sleeve in the Macondo oil well said he had never done the job before.

Shane Albers, BP’s subsea engineer, also told internal company investigators after the well blew April 20 that the device was supposed to be installed in the well on April 18, but “problems caused a delay.”

Testifying before a Marine Board panel investigating the accident, Albers was asked what he meant by problems. The nervousness coming through in his voice, Albers said he couldn’t recall.

“I’m a relatively new hire, and my main role is to learn how to run a lockdown sleeve,” Albers said. Asked how he wrote the procedure, he said he based it on one written by the manufacturer, Dril-Quip, and one from another BP well.

As it turned out, the lockdown sleeve never got installed. It was sitting on the rig when it blew up. The fact that the safety item hadn’t been installed earlier confused some rig workers who had always seen such lockdown sleeves put in place with drilling mud still in the well. But Albers wrote the procedure to place the device after the mud, which protects against kicks of gas, had already been removed.

“I’m not aware of all the reasons drilling fluid is used,” Albers said.

Previous testimony:

John Guide, BP’s wells team leader in Houston supervising the top BP people on the Deepwater Horizon rig, gave a clearer explanation Thursday of why he balked April 16 when his boss authorized the use of additional devices recommended by contractor Halliburton to reduce the risk of a blowout.

After days of speculation by lawyers at Marine Board hearings that 15 items called centralizers went unused on the rig because they were the wrong kind, Guide testified that they were the wrong type for the job.

In an internal BP e-mail message April 16, Guide wrote: “It willtake 10 hours to install them. We are adding 45 pieces that can come off as a last minute addition. I do not like this.” That raised questions about whether Guide was fighting against adding the centralizers because of how long it would take.

He said the time wasn’t the issue. Instead, he said the BP team was more comfortable running fewer centralizers than with using more of the wrong type.

Ky Kirby, a lawyer representing Anadarko and MOEX Offshore, minority owners of the Macondo well, challenged Guide’s logic that the only option other than using the wrong devices was to use fewer.

“Why couldn’t you wait to get the right centralizers?” Kirby asked.

“That subject to the best of my knowledge, never came up,” Guide said.

Guide’s boss, David Sims, authorized the use of 21 centralizers while Guide was out sick, Guide testified. E-mails indicate that Sims felt the larger number of centralizers was more consistent with BP’s other changes to well design.

Guide said he didn’t think using the other kind of centralizers was prudent because of a problem they recently had at another BP project, Atlantis. At that other Gulf well tools fell off the casing tubes when those tubes had to be removed from the hole, Guide said. He said he didn’t believe there were significant cost differences between using 21 centralizers as opposed to six.

Previous testimony:

Akey BP official in Houston said he didn’t bother opening a document warning of a risk of a severe gas flow problem in the Macondo oil well before a gas bulge blew it out and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

John Guide, BP’s wells team leader in Houston supervising the top BP people on the Deepwater Horizon rig, said that by the time he got an e-mail message from cement contractor Halliburton, tubes that give structure to the well had already been placed and he considered the attached document about the possible impacts of the well’s design to be “too late.”

Therefore, Guide said that he never opened the document attached to the e-mail message from Halliburton’s Jesse Gagliano, which stated that BP’s choice to use fewer than seven devices called centralizers to hold well pieces in place risked a “SEVERE gas flow problem.”

Guide said he didn’t look at that document until April 24, four days after the accident, even though Gagliano sent it on April 18, two days before the accident.

Miles Clements, a lawyer for rig owner Transocean, confronted Guide about his assertion that Halliburton’s assessment of risk came too late.

“It wasn’t too late to do a proper cement job; it just would have cost more time and money, isn’t that right?” Clements asked.

“We did a proper cement job,” Guide responded.

“I’m not sure everyone would agree with you on that, sir,” Clements said.

Many experts believe that improper cement barriers allowed natural gas to seep into the well and shoot up open spaces.

Guide said he didn’t put much faith in the models Halliburton used, anyway.

Capt. Hung Nguyen asked Guide if he didn’t trust the Halliburton model, why didn’t BP leaders order a test called a cement bond log to be more sure of the integrity of the well’s cement barriers. Guide replied that actual checks of the well, not simulations, showed the well’s cement was safe, so the cement bond log was no longer necessary.

Guide repeatedly said his company’s decisions were based on ensuring “long-term wellbore integrity,” not on saving money and time, but when pressed, he allowed that some of BP’s choices also saved time and money.

Previous testimony:

A top BP official on the Deepwater Horizon rig at the time of the massive explosions April 20 questioned why company executives in Houston combined two processes on their troubled well, suggesting the bosses were trying to “save time.”

“They decided we should do displacement (of protective drilling mud with seawater) and the negative test together; I don’t know why,” BP company man Robert Kaluza told internal BP investigators after the accident, according to notes from those investigators.

“Maybe they were trying to save time. At the end of the well sometimes they think about speeding up.”

That’s how the investigators’ notes were read Thursday by lawyer Steve Gordon during Marine Board investigative hearings in Kenner.

Experts have said it was a mistake to displace the mud before the well was completely plugged, because the mud weight is the first defense against natural gas or oil kicking up and blowing out the well.

Kaluza, who had only been overseeing rig operations for four days when the accident happened, has not made any other public statement about it because he has twice invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to refuse to testify before the Marine Board panel.

At the panel hearings Thursday, Gordon asked Kaluza’s boss, BP wells team leader John Guide, whether Kaluza was right.

“I don’t know exactly what Mr. Kaluza is referring to,” Guide said.

Gordon asked if it’s true that doing those two activities together would save time.

“Could be,” Guide said.

“And time equals money out there, right?” Gordon asked.

“Yes,” Guide said.

Previous testimony:

A key BP official who oversees deepwater drilling operations from Houston testified Thursday that e-mail messages citing the higher costs of certain well designs did not mean his company compromised safety to save money.

John Guide, BP’s wells team leader and the direct supervisor of the top BP men who were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig, was part of a group that reviewed or approved significant changes in the design of the well in the week before the explosions that killed 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

One of the changes was to run a single tapered string of casing through the very center of the well, the whole 13,000-foot length of the well. The well’s designers considered using a shorter tube at the bottom of the well called a “liner,” that would be tied back to a series of larger ones already in the hole, which overlap and extend upward in sections like a telescope.

BP leaders debated the relative safety of each and Guide testified Thursday that the shorter “liner with a tie-back” would have provided an additional barrier against natural gas blowing out the well.

Several engineering experts have said it was a major design flaw to not have the tie-back barrier because it left a clear path for gas to flow all the way from the bottom of the well to the well head on the sea floor.

But internal BP e-mails from before the incident indicate it would have taken an additional three days to install the liner and would have cost an additional $7 million to $10 million, according to a congressional committee.

Asked about that added cost, Guide said, “It was mentioned, but it was not a factor in the decision.” He said he felt a single, tapered tube would make the well’s walls stronger over the long-haul.

“It was the best decision for long-term well bore integrity,” Guide said. “It just happened to also be a case where it did cost less, so it was a win-win. It just happened to be a case where it also saved money.”

Another sudden change to the well plan was to install fewer devices called “centralizers,” items that latch onto well liners to make sure they are centered in the hole so cement poured in to make seals would be evenly distributed.

Halliburton, a BP contractor on the project, warned that BP’s plan to use six centralizers instead of 21 would lead to a “SEVERE gas flow problem.” In an e-mail exchange April 16, BP executive David Sims, Guide’s boss, approved the use of more centralizers to be consistent with the earlier decision to use a single, longer string of casing.

But Guide appeared to have led the successful charge to go with the original scheme of fewer centralizers when he wrote an e-mail on April16 complaining: “It will take 10 hours to install them. We are adding 45 pieces that can come off as a last minute addition. I do not like this.”

Guide testified Thursday that he wasn’t against taking the time to add the other centralizers, but didn’t think it was prudent because of a problem they recently had at another BP project, Atlantis. At that other Gulf well centralizers fell off the casing tubes when they had to be removed from the hole, Guide said. He said he didn’t believe there were significant cost differences between using 21 centralizers as opposed to six.

Previous testimony:

Roughneck Shane Roshto’s widow said that before her husband’s death on the Deepwater Horizon, he told her the Gulf oil well he was drilling was “from hell” and that “Mother Nature just doesn’t want us to drill here.”

Natalie Roshto of Liberty, Miss., appeared Thursday before a Marine Board panel investigating the April 20 disaster.

She has testified before several congressional committees about what her husband shared with her in the days and hours before the accident. The couple often spoke more than once a day while he was offshore.

In a tacit push against President Barack Obama’s drilling moratorium, Natalie Roshto told the investigative panel that more safety rules aren’t necessary and unique dangers to this particular well led to the deaths of 11 workers, including Shane Roshto, and the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“I don’t think we need more safety rules,” she said. “The ones out there need to be implemented harder for our men providing necessary commodities.”

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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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