BP drilled doomed U.S. well despite early problems-expert

NEW ORLEANS Wed Feb 27, 2013 12:58pm EST

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NEW ORLEANS Feb 27 (Reuters) - BP Plc took chances drilling its doomed Macondo well long before it ruptured in 2010, a well design and pressure expert said on Wednesday in the second day of testimony in the civil trial over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Alan Huffman, chief technology officer for Fusion Petroleum Technologies Inc, said BP forged ahead with drilling the well in 2009 outside the margin considered safe in the industry and by regulators.

He said there was a "kick" in the well during one of many intervals in drilling, which indicates pressure was unstable and there could be a rupture or other problem. Rather than stop drilling, the work forged ahead with another interval.

"It is truly egregious to drill that extra 100 feet knowing you could lose the well in the process," Huffman testified.

He said the well was "dangerous and fragile" and "they should not have drilled ahead at all."

BP's legal team had yet to cross-examine Huffman, who testified on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, Gulf states affected by the spill, and plaintiffs suing BP and its partners.

In this first of the trial's three phases, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will seek to allocate blame between well owner BP, driller Transocean Ltd, cement services provider Halliburton Co and others, unless a settlement cuts the trial short.

The April 2010 blowout caused an explosion that killed 11 men and sent more than 4 million barrels of crude spewing into the Gulf.

Earlier on Wednesday, plaintiffs played an excerpt of a videotaped deposition of Kevin Lacy, former senior vice president of Gulf drilling operations for BP, who resigned from the company a few months before the spill because of concerns about BP's safety practices.

He testified that he was under heavy pressure from top BP management in 2008 and 2009 to shave hundreds of millions of dollars in costs and received bonuses for doing so. In 2009, his team cut up to $300 million in costs and had pressure to keep it up in 2010.

"I was never given a directive to cut corners or to deliver something not safely," Lacy said. "But there was tremendous pressure on costs."

Also on Wednesday, Lamar McKay, BP's global head of exploration and production, finished his live testimony and held fast that BP was partly, not wholly, responsible for the spill.

He resisted Transocean lawyer Kerry Miller's aggressive questions seeking an admission of complete responsibility.

"We've agreed that we're part of the responsibility for this tragic accident. We've apologized for that. We've accepted responsibility for that in many different ways," McKay testified.

Don Godwin, a lawyer for Halliburton, took a similar tack with McKay. BP has held that Halliburton made substandard cement used to plug the well before the rupture.

Godwin pushed on whether BP would have known there was a problem with the cement had the company's well site leader correctly interpreted results of a critical pressure test. BP has acknowledged that a correct interpretation of the test would have alerted those on the rig that the well was dangerously unstable.

"It was not an effective barrier," McKay said of the cement.

"Because the negative pressure test was misinterpreted?" Godwin asked.

"Potentially, yes," McKay replied.

Also on tap to testify this week is Mark Bly, global head of safety and operational risk who ran BP's internal probe of the spill in 2010.

The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, No. 10-md-02179, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana.

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