When the Macondo well blew and started the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was not ready to handle the catastrophe, said a safety expert who studied the 2010 oil spill testifying before a judge who is assessing how well the company reacted to the disaster.
BP didn’t spend money on deepwater source control before the April 20, 2010, blowout and neglected process safety management, said Robert Bea, a retired engineering professor from the University of California, Berkeley, who is a plaintiffs’ witness that testified Tuesday at the nonjury trial over the efforts to contain the spill.
“You can never forecast and predict everything that is important,” Bea told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans in a Bloomberg report. “‘I don’t know what to do’ is never an excuse in mature process safety management.”
Plaintiffs suing BP over the disaster are asking Barbier to find the company failed to properly prepare for a deepwater blowout or respond quickly enough once it occurred. His decisions in this phase of the case, over the size of the spill and efforts to contain it may add or subtract billions of dollars from BP’s ultimate bill for the incident.
The company didn’t vary from industry standards in preparing for source control of a deepwater blowout, Bea acknowledged under cross examination from a BP attorney. Bea said in a pretrial report BP’s pre-disaster plans to mitigate a failure were inadequate.
Mike Brock, a lawyer for London-based BP, asked Bea if the company’s source control plan was the same as those by rivals Shell Oil Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp. Bea had earlier praised plans by BP’s competitors.
“It looks like they were all written by the same group using cut-and-paste technology,” Bea replied. The industry seemed to handle blowouts on a “case-by-case basis,” he said.
The blowout of BP’s Macondo well off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010 killed 11 people aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and set off the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident sparked hundreds of lawsuits against BP, as well as Transocean Ltd., owner of the rig that burned and sank, and Halliburton Co., which provided cement services for the project.
In the first phase of the case, also heard by Barbier without a jury, the judge considered evidence of fault for the disaster and whether any of the companies’ actions in causing the blowout and subsequent spill reached the level of gross negligence. A finding of gross negligence would trigger higher fines for BP and punitive damages for all three defendants.
Phase two, which began Sept. 30, covers the size of the spill and BP’s efforts to contain it. Decisions in phase two of the trial would mean billions of dollars to BP.
A finding by Barbier supporting BP’s assessment that the spill was 40 percent smaller than the government’s estimate might shave as much as $7.5 billion from the $18 billion in maximum fines the company faces under the U.S. Clean Water Act.
A finding that BP’s actions let the spill continue longer than it might have may save its co-defendants, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co., as much as 70 percent of any judgments against them.