Last updated: February 27, 2013 12:08 am

Gulf rig safety was ‘team effort’, says BP

Responsibility for safety on the Deepwater Horizon rig was shared between the companies involved in the project, a BP executive told the trial in New Orleans over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Lamar McKay, BP’s US president at the time of the disaster, said that although the company had accepted in its settlement of criminal charges last year that it had “ultimate responsibility” for the safety of the project to drill the Macondo well, “It doesn’t mean sole exclusive responsibility, it means shared responsibility”.

Safety, he said, was “a collaborative team effort”.

His evidence reflected BP’s argument that the accident was a “multi-party, multi-causal event”, involving other companies including Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, which supplied cement intended to seal the well.

Mr McKay, who was recently promoted to run BP’s global exploration and production business, took the stand on Tuesday afternoon, called as a witness by lawyers for private sector plaintiffs suing for compensation.

He is scheduled to be the most senior BP executive to give evidence at the trial to determine liability for civil penalties and damages arising from the spill.

Earlier, the trial was told by an expert witness that BP’s failure to implement effective safety systems led to the disaster.

Bob Bea, a veteran safety expert who is professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said the accident on the Deepwater Horizon was rooted in a failure of “process safety”: the protection of a complex system from catastrophic accidents.

Professor Bea, who worked on inquiries into disasters including the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and the 2003 Columbia space shuttle explosion, co-wrote a report for the plaintiffs’ lawyers, which argued: “BP management knowingly ignored process safety and risk management for deepwater exploration wells.”

His evidence was challenged by BP, which argued in a court filing last year that his approach was “flawed” because he had looked in detail at BP, while making only a “superficial” review of evidence from Transocean and Halliburton.

Prof Bea told the court there was “ample evidence of the pressure to save time and money” from BP in the run-up to the accident.

Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive during 2007-10, had set as the company’s mantra the slogan “every dollar counts”, in an attempt to boost profitability. Between 2008 and 2009, BP’s production in the Gulf of Mexico rose 55 per cent while cash costs were cut 22 per cent, he said

Prof Bea also highlighted the fact that BP’s operating management system (OMS), described by Mr Hayward as the “cornerstone” of its safety framework, was not in effect on contractors’ rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr McKay told the court that under the OMS standards, when BP used what were considered to be competent drilling contractors, such as Transocean, it was their safety systems that were in effect, rather than BP’s.

Questioning Prof Bea, Mike Brock, BP’s chief lawyer, asked whether Mr Hayward’s repeated statements that “safety is our number one priority” were the right message for senior management to deliver. Prof Bea replied that they were.

Mr Brock described steps that BP had taken to improve safety and asked whether they were evidence of a company that was “cutting corners”.

Prof Bea replied: “No”.

The first phase of the trial, covering the causes of the accident and the liabilities of the companies involved, is expected to last for three months.

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