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BP failed to heed safety warnings, expert testifies in Gulf Oil spill trial



Published: Wed, February 27, 2013 @ 3:26 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS (AP)

BP failed to implement a new safety plan on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig even though the company realized a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was its greatest danger, an expert witness for people and businesses suing the company testified Tuesday.

University of California-Berkeley engineering professor Robert Bea was the first witness at a civil trial to determine how much more BP and other companies should pay for the spill. Bea said BP PLC didn't implement a two-year-old safety management program on the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"It's a classic failure of management and leadership in BP," said Bea, a former BP consultant who also investigated the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and New Orleans levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The London-based company has said its "Operating Management System" was designed to drive a rigorous and systematic approach to safety and risk management. Yet it was only implemented at one of the seven rigs the company owned or leased in the Gulf.

Bea said it was "tragic" and "egregious" that BP didn't apply its own safety program to the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the Macondo well blowout triggered the explosion that killed 11 workers and spawned the massive spill. Transocean owned the rig; BP leased it.

A plaintiffs' lawyer who questioned Bea showed him a transcript of a deposition of Tony Hayward, who was BP's CEO at the time of the disaster. Hayward was asked if the deadly April 20, 2010, blowout could have been averted if BP had implemented the safety management program in the Gulf.

"There is possible potential," Hayward responded. "Undoubtedly."

Bea said BP's "culture of every dollar counts" was reflected in a May 2009 email sent by BP well team leader John Guide: "The DW Horizon embraced every dollar matters since I arrived 18 months ago," Guide wrote. "We have saved BP millions and no one had to tell us."

In a report prepared for the trial, Bea concluded that BP's "process safety failures" were a cause of the blowout.

"Financially, BP had the resources to effectively put into place a process safety system that could have prevented the Macondo disaster," Bea said.

Bea said he had warned BP management several years before the Gulf rig explosion that "culture is key" to the company's ability to operate safely. Bea said the company didn't heed his warnings.

"You still don't get it," he recalled telling BP officials in 2007. "You have not implemented any recommendations. Process safety is deadly serious, and you've turned it into a traveling roadshow."

Lawyers for BP and other companies involved in the ill-fated drilling project will question Bea later Monday.


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