Witness Says Deepwater Horizon Accident Was 'Classic Failure of Management'

NEW ORLEANS - An expert witness for plaintiffs suing BP PLC said the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident was "a classic failure of management and leadership in BP," at the trial here in Federal District Court over liability for the disaster.

Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who has worked as a safety consultant for BP starting in 2001, said Tuesday that he sent many warnings to the company's management in the years before the accident about how cost-cutting would hurt the safety of operations.

"It was too lean," Mr. Bea said of BP's operations after it reduced spending.

The testimony came on the second day of the civil trial that will determine the degree of culpability that BP and the other companies have for the accident, which killed 11 workers. On Monday lawyers for BP, drilling contractors Transocean Ltd. (RIG) and Halliburton Corp. (HAL), the federal government, Gulf Coast states and local businesses traded barbs over who was to blame for the explosion that unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Mr. Bea also criticized BP's own internal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident for failing to investigate management decisions leading up to the accident. Instead, he said, BP's study, known as The Bly Report, focused on the direct cause of the explosion on the drilling rig and the role that equipment and crew on the rig played.

During cross-examination, Mike Brock, a lawyer for BP, tried to challenge the credibility of Mr. Bea's testimony, emphasizing the limits of his expertise and emphasizing the role the companies suing BP played in providing him information for a report he did that was critical of BP's work leading up to the blowout.

"You understood that the plaintiff's legal team was focused on finding documents that hurt BP, not helped BP?" Mr. Brock asked.

Mr. Bea said he and his colleagues "were searching for the truth, the facts."

Mr. Brock also walked Mr. Bea through many efforts the company and its management made over the years to improve its safety operations, including surveying workers about safety operations.

BP has argued that the accident was due to many errors and misjudgments by all of the companies involved in the project, including rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton.

Other witnesses expected soon include Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP Americas, and previously recorded depositions of former BP CEO Tony Hayward and Kevin Lacy, the former head of BP's Gulf of Mexico operations.

A second trial, scheduled for the fall, will determine how much oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Together, they will determine the size of fines the companies face under the Clean Water Act, which could total as much as $17.6 billion.

BP, which hired Transocean and Halliburton to work on drilling its well, has said the fines would likely be under $5 billion.


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