Rig Worker Was Worried About Safety, Widow Says


KENNER, La. — The widow of a Deepwater Horizon worker who was killed in the oil rig explosion testified Thursday that her husband expressed grave concerns about dangerous work conditions before his death.

The widow, Natalie Roshto, said her husband, Shane Roshto, a 22-year-old roustabout for Transocean, and other workers felt pressure to continue drilling despite frequent equipment malfunctions and setbacks.

“From Day 1, he deemed this the ‘well from hell,’ ” Ms. Roshto told federal investigators at a hearing into the causes of the disaster. “He said Mother Nature just didn’t want to be drilled here.”

Her testimony reinforced a growing perception that rig workers were concerned about personal safety standards on the rig, which caught fire on April 20, killing 11 men and triggering the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Ms. Roshto testified that her husband had not expressed similar concerns about other wells.

A confidential survey of rig workers conducted a month before the disaster showed that many were distressed about safety conditions and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems. The survey, commissioned by Transocean and obtained by The New York Times, reported that workers “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”

In testimony Thursday in this suburb of New Orleans, a BP official who supervised the Deepwater Horizon from shore said the rig had a variety of equipment problems in its final weeks. The official, A. John Guide, the well site leader, said workers were aware of a leak on a critical safety device called the blowout preventer. He said the leak was detected in February and March and was repaired, but the blowout preventer failed to activate after the explosion.

Earlier this week, another BP official testified to a separate leak with equipment connected to the blowout preventer.

Federal investigators pressed Mr. Guide about whether BP took shortcuts to save money. They noted that rig supervisors chose a potentially risky type of well casing over more traditional equipment, saving the company $7 million to $10 million.

“Is it true that decisions were made based on cost savings?” asked Jason Mathews, a member of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which is overseeing the hearings along with the Coast Guard.

“The culture is that safety is the priority,” Mr. Guide said.

“Culture is one thing,” said Hung Nguyen, the Coast Guard official who is chairman of the panel. Enforcement, he added, “is another thing.”

Investigators noted that in one year, workers on the rig endured 15 accidents deemed “near hits,” in which heavy equipment was dropped or other safety breaches occurred. And they questioned the decision to send workers back to shore without having them conduct a strength test of the cement in the well.

Ms. Roshto, the widow, who has also testified before Congressional investigators, urged the federal government to enforce safety regulations more rigorously.

“For our men to be there drilling and their lives to be put under business interests, that’s what I want to stress,” she said. “I don’t think we need to make any more safety rules. I think they need to be implemented harder for our men who work out there.”

Mr. Guide assigned blame for the safety problems on Transocean, the company that leased that rig to BP and employed most of its workers. “We had faith that Transocean was attempting to maintain a safe ship,” he said.

Mr. Nguyen dismissed the answer as insufficient. “In the military, we often say hope is not a plan,” he said. “It seems like faith is not a very good business decision here.”

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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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