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Lawyer Says Transocean Failed to Train Drilling Rig Crews Properly

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Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Lawyer Says Transocean Failed to Train Drilling Rig Crews Properly

NEW ORLEANS - Transocean Ltd. failed to train its drilling rig crews properly and didn't maintain key safety equipment on the doomed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, leading to the deadly 2010 explosion and oil spill, a lawyer representing Gulf Coast businesses said.

During opening statements of a trial over liability, Jim Roy, a lawyer for companies suing BP PLC, Transocean, Halliburton Co. and others, cited a string of prior incidents in Federal District Court that he said showed the rig owner was grossly negligent leading up to the accident.

Information about close calls on other rigs wasn't passed along, Mr. Roy said, adding that just a month before the April 2010 accident, the Transocean crew on the Deepwater Horizon failed to catch a sudden surge of natural gas from the well they were drilling, indicating the company had "a chronic problem."

Mr. Roy was the first lawyer to make an opening statement on the first day of the civil trial aimed at determining the degree of culpability BP and the other companies have for the disaster, which killed 11 workers and unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. A second trial, scheduled for the fall, will determine how much oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Together, these cases will determine the size of fines companies face under the Clean Water Act, which could range as high as $17.6 billion.

BP, which hired Transocean and Halliburton to work on drilling its deep-water oil well, has argued the fines would likely be less than $5 billion. The company will get 90 minutes to put on its opening statement Monday afternoon.

Transocean, which presented its opening statement Monday morning, rebutted the claims against the company's rigs and its crews. The Coast Guard, federal safety regulators and BP's own management considered the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig "what 'good' looked like," said Brad Brian, a lawyer for Transocean. He outlined details of Transocean's safety systems, and emphasized that BP had primary responsibility for the design of the well and for final safety decisions.

"BP took a series of unconscionable risks with what it knew was an exceptionally dangerous well," Mr. Brian said.

Mr. Brian focused on a 10 minute ship-to-shore phone call between two BP engineers, Mark Hafle and Donald Vidrine, less than an hour before the explosion. Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about odd results from a key safety test, results that Mr. Hafle noted didn't seem to be appropriate.

"In many ways, it's a microcosm of what BP did wrong on this well and why Transocean and its crew truly are victims of BP's misconduct," Mr. Brian said. Instructing the crew to go ahead with its work in the wake of these test results "was reckless, in utter and wholesale disregard of the facts."

Michael Underhill, the Justice Department's lead civil attorney in the case, also focused on that conversation as one of several places where the accident could have been prevented.

"That conversation we will show should have prevented the tragedy, the need for any of us to be in this courtroom today and for the next 3 months," Mr. Underhill said. "They had a conversation that could have saved eleven lives, saved the Gulf, saved the people of the Gulf from a catastrophe."

The government plans to "show that a long series of missteps and reckless decisions by BP taken together demonstrate willful misconduct," he said. "We will show that individual decisions made by BP standing alone constitute gross negligence."

BP has already agreed to pay more than $30 billion in fines, settlements and cleanup costs for the well blowout and the resulting Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including $4 billion to settle criminal charges related to the accident. Transocean has agreed to $1 billion in civil fines and $400 million in criminal penalties.

Witness testimony is expected to begin on the Tuesday, starting with Robert Bea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He will likely be followed by Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP Americas. A previously taped questioning of former BP chairman, Tony Hayward, will be played Tuesday.

Despite the start of the trial, settlement discussions are continuing, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department and Gulf Coast states have considered offering BP a deal under which the company would pay $16 billion to settle civil claims. The settlement offer would cover potential fines owed by BP under the Clean Water Act, and payments under an environmental evaluation known as the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, these people said.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Post a Comment Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.
GB | Apr. 8, 2013
profit over anything else....that is the whole truth...it is all about business...

Gift Anthony | Mar. 3, 2013
These could have been prevented if adequate precautions were taken.

Amos Ufit | Mar. 3, 2013
Careful analysis of the "2010 worst oil spill in history of the Gulf of Mexico" will reveal two levels of incompetences: poor management decisions which trade quality for cost, and failure to invest on personnel capacity building (training) by management. The former could be considered as the direct effect of the later, my point being that, even senior managers of most of these big companies lack adequate training, or may not have considered the trainings received as useful tools to enhance their decision-making abilities on what policies the companies should adopt. I would confess that these dreadful practices are most encouraged in the Gulf of Guinea, most especially, Nigerian Oil and Gas where selection for competency building is done not by who does what but by who knows who even in the midst of technical and critical job assignments. These and other practices in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry makes uninteresting working in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria coupled with the bad reward system, where the lazy, unintelligent and unproductive are rewarded handsomely simply because someone knows someone and not because someone does something extraordinarily better. This, creates a close-circuit system where the best is treated incognito. Well, thats the way the industry is in Nigeria. Now, back to 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, the client to the Drilling Contractor TransOcean and Cementing Contractor Halliburton is BP. It is erroneous to believe that the contractors could use substandard drilling pipes, casing, drill bits, drill collar and any other material used for drilling without prior instruction and, in fact, permission by the Client BP. This point is buttressed by the fact that best practices in the industry require that all tools for work for client must be inspected and certified OK by clients before they are used by contractors. Also, the discussion that revealed safety issues between two BP Engineers Hafle and Vidrine is a clear indication that the eleven lives and the Gulf coast could been saved of catastrophe if adequate safety precautions were taken at the right time. The kick and blowout, the pipe bursting, and cement fracturing, and all would not have been part of the history of BP, TransOcean, Halliburton and the Gulf of Mexico! And lawyers meeting in the courtroom to display unnecessary prowess would not have been thing to consider. BP should be held liable! This does not free TransOcean and Halliburton from blame. It means that appropriate MWD (Measurement While Drilling) and LWD (Logging While Drilling) were not done by TransOcean. These are amongst the many tools to help detect danger while drilling. In like manner, Halliburton displayed incompetences in her cementing job. They all should be made to sweat for destroying the Gulf. I pray the court to level adequate fines against these destroyers of the earth, who love trading safety for cost and encourage the incompetence in lieu of the best because of their selfishness. Expecting to hearing the judgement soon. Amos Ufit, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Stephen Watkins | Mar. 2, 2013
Both BP and TransOcean employees on the Deepwater Horizon had to know they had a problem when they ran the production casing in the hole and cemented the casing - well before they even performed negative pressure tests that proved they did not secure the well prior to displacing the riser with sea water. This was not rocket science! I am sure that representatives of both TransOcean and British Petroleum conveyed their concerns about the entire job and the risks of displacing the riser to upper management of both companies prior to the displacement process.

De | Mar. 1, 2013
Does not surprise me about Transocean and its employees having worked with a rig of theirs.. One thing that Transocean has to admit is that the OIM is overall in charge. He has the power to stop any operation. Why didnt he?? Was he experienced in his job? Did he stand up to the Company men? If not, he should never have held that position. BP is only partly responsible, Transocean is the bigger part.

James N Burkhalter | Feb. 26, 2013
I have been designing drilling programs and drilling wells to 25,000 ft for the last 50 years. I ALWAYS insisted on at least one full circulation of mud down casing and up backside to clear debris and, especially, any oil and/or gas on the backside so as to have a safe and effective cement job. It is my understanding thet BP did not do this, even though the well was known to be high pressure and prolific. A small bubble of gas on the bottom can expand to huge proportions by the time it reaches the surface. This was negligence.

Darwin M. Saberon | Feb. 26, 2013
i was a former employee of Transocean, the employer around this company are over acting too much on safety, a 5 min. job but securing paper works are almost 30 min. before the job start. thats why so many accidents, incidents happenning in this company.

Chris Chapman | Feb. 26, 2013
My first response to that allagation was profanity. Then I took stock, and remined myself that the facts state exactly the facts. do any checks becauese they have been told the well is dead. Regardless of any commentss in training and safety, the transOcean crew were told by the supervisor that the well was dead. Any person who works on a floater or drill ship will respond to that statement and not as many court dramas will show react on a safe way. It is only when the gas expaneded in the well bore that any of the 120 + persons onboard knew t displacing to sea water before a rig movehere was a problem. The deciding fact is the inability to divert the gas from the annulus to overboard nto prevent gas throughtout the rig. Equipment - yes the shear rams shouls have worked people - no as they were told the well is dead we are moving to rig move. That statement alone should nullify any acusation against Transocean as the rihg crew were only working to current procedures. How can they initaite well control procedures early when they are told the well is DEAD. WAKE UP PEOPLE, why accuse the dead of doing their job.

John Doe | Feb. 26, 2013
Or in other words blame the men killed since they cant speak to these charges. Appears to me there is enough blame to go around. When BP says in safety meetings its done to make the job safer, not assign blame



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