BP, Transocean, Halliburton will blame one another for spill

McClatchy NewspapersMay 10, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Top executives from three companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster will face a barrage of questions on Tuesday from angry senators eager to make it clear they intend to hold someone responsible for a blowout that killed 11 and continues to spew 210,000 gallons of oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico

But it's also clear the three companies will have another source of finger-pointing — each other.

In testimony released Monday before the first of Tuesday's two Senate hearings, the executives, from BP America, which owned the well, Tansocean Ltd., which owned the rig, and Halliburton, a contractor on the rig, blame other companies for the as-yet-undetermined cause of the explosion.

In his testimony, submitted to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Lamar McKay of BP said the company wants to answer two questions at the root of the disaster: What caused the explosion and fire, and why did the blowout preventer fail? He makes it clear Transocean owned the blowout preventer.

"The systems are intended to fail-closed and be fail-safe; sadly and for reasons we do not yet understand, in this case, they were not," McKay is to testify. "Transocean’s blowout preventer failed to operate."

That directly counters Transocean CEO Steven Newman's statement.

"Over the past several days, some have suggested that the blowout preventers used on this project were the cause of the accident," Newman is expected to testify. "That simply makes no sense."

Their investigative team has looked at numerous possible causes, Newman will say, but the company's blowout preventers "were clearly not the root cause of the explosion." The well had been sealed with casing and cement, and within a few days, the blowout preventers would have been removed, anyway, he will say. At that point, the cementing and casing were responsible for controlling any pressure, he says in his testimony.

Although Newman does not single out Halliburton for blame, he does make it clear that Halliburton was the cementing sub-contractor &mash; and as such "is responsible for encasing the well in cement, or putting a temporary cement plug in the top of the well, and for ensuring the integrity of the cement."

Tim Probert of Halliburton has a different take, and points back to BP in his prepared testimony. The well owner is ultimately responsible, said Probert, who is the president of the company's global business lines and its chief health, safety and environmental officer.

"I need to start this section with an important statement of disclosure," he is expected to testify. "Halliburton, as a service provider to the well owner, is contractually bound to comply with the well owner’s instructions on all matters relating to the performance of all work-related activities."

"It is also important to understand the roles and responsibilities of the various parties involved in the construction of a well," he added. "The construction of a deep water well is a complex operation involving the performance of numerous tasks by multiple parties led by the well owner’s representative, who has the ultimate authority for decisions on how and when various activities are conducted."

Meanwhile, BP is struggling to find a way to stop the flood of oil following its failed effort to place a 78-ton steel and concrete cap the size of a four-story house over the pipe. Company officials on Monday announced engineers would try to put a smaller "top hat" over the main leaking pipe as early as Thursday. If it is successful, the company would pump the captured oil to a barge.

While they continue to look for a solution to stop the oil, government regulators are investigating the incident. President Barack Obama has temporarily halted all new offshore drilling until the Interior Department submits a safety report due May 28.

Regardless of who’s to blame for the accident, McKay said in his prepared testimony that he wishes to underscore the company’s “intense determination to do everything humanly possible to minimize the environmental and economic impacts of the resulting oil spill on the Gulf Coast .”

Already, the company has mobilized a fleet of 294 response vessels and has recovered more than 97,000 barrels of oil-and-water mix from the sea, McKay said in his statement.

"BP is under no illusions about the seriousness of the situation we face," he said. "In the last three weeks, the eyes of the world have been upon us. President Obama and members of his cabinet have visited the Gulf region and made clear their expectations of BP and our industry. So have members of Congress, as well as the general public."

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