April 8, 2013 7:18 pm

Drilling expert comes to BP’s defence

BP drilled its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico “safely” and according to standard industry practice, an expert witness called by the company has told the trial for damages over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Ted Bourgoyne, a professor emeritus at Louisiana State University who wrote one of the industry’s standard textbooks on drilling, told the court in New Orleans: “The well was drilled safely basically because standard industry practices were followed. There were no major problems that weren’t properly handled.”

He also said that although he was “very surprised” by the “unfortunate” misinterpretation of a crucial test by workers on the Deepwater Horizon on the day of the disaster, it had been “a group decision,” not made by BP staff alone.

Prof Bourgoyne appeared as the first witness called by BP as the company attempts to show that it did not act with gross negligence or wilful misconduct leading to the blowout at the Macondo well in April 2010, which killed 11 men and caused the world’s largest ever accidental oil offshore oil spill.

After six weeks of trial in which the US government, private sector claimants for damages and other companies involved in the spill have been making arguments that blame BP, the British company now has a chance to present its case in response.

It called Prof Bourgoyne to give evidence in an attempt to rebut testimony given by Alan Huffman, an expert witness called by the US government, who said the way BP drilled Macondo “was not only unsafe, it violates every standard I can think of”.

Prof Bourgoyne told the court that he “totally” disagreed with the argument by Mr Huffman, a consultant petroleum geophysicist, that pressure readings from the well showed BP had been drilling in a dangerous way.

He added that Mr Huffman’s view of how pressure in a well should be assessed “goes against all my working experience and training experience”.

Overall, Prof Bourgoyne said, BP had shown signs of taking “extreme care” with safety, including monitoring incidents such as dropped washers, and whether employees were using handrails when going up and down stairs.

The BP crew “really did a good job” drilling the well, he said, apart from right at the end, when workers on the rig misinterpreted the critical negative pressure test intended to show whether the well had been properly sealed with cement.

Prof Bourgoyne said: “I don’t think there was anything intentional about [the misinterpretation] . . . This was a group decision. Everybody had a lot of confidence in one another, and once they reached a decision they thought they were right.”

He described the workers on the Deepwater Horizon as a “top of the line crew on a top of the line rig”.

BP plans to continue with its case for about two more weeks, after which the judge is expected to bring the first phase of the trial to an end.

However, the second phase, to assess how much oil escaped from the well, is not scheduled to start until September, meaning that it will probably not be until around the end of the year at the earliest that the judge makes any decisions on BP’s liability.

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