HOUSTON Feb 12 BP Plc has seven
contracted rigs drilling wells in the Gulf of Mexico nearly
three years after its disastrous Macondo oil spill - and more
eyes and ears on each well than ever before, the company says.
As part of its repeated promises to shore up safety in the
aftermath of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP
has added a layer of oversight at a monitoring center in Houston
with experts watching the wells day and night.
Rig operations are still controlled aboard each rig, but the
onshore experts can stop the work if they detect irregular
pressure or some other anomaly.
The intent is to watch more closely for the kinds of
problems that led to Macondo's rupture in April 2010, which
caused an explosion that killed 11 men and spewed nearly 5
million barrels of crude from the runaway well.
Before the spill, BP had planned to add a monitoring center
at its global exploration and production hub in Houston, But
since Macondo, the focus changed from operational updates and
cost oversight to well integrity.
"The actual makeup and role came from the learnings of the
accident," BP well operations manager Chris Harder told
reporters Tuesday during a tour of the center.
BP is slated to go to trial in federal court in New Orleans
Feb. 25 on potentially massive spill-related civil claims from
the U.S. Justice Department, states along the U.S. Gulf Coast,
The key issue in the case is the level of BP's negligence in
the spill. A gross negligence finding could quadruple damages
owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion.
Before Macondo, BP connected onshore and offshore engineers
via satellite for daily updates on Gulf operations, productivity
and cost oversight -- but not well control.
Macondo changed the center's focus. Well site engineers and
experts watch computer screens in 12-hour shifts -- the same
hours as rig workers -- to monitor pumps, pressure, and pits, or
the tanks on rigs that hold liquids used in drilling.
"We're weaving a safety net," said Richard Morrison, BP's
head of Gulf operations.
Overall BP has committed $37 billion to settle spill-related
claims in the years after the disaster. That includes a record
$4 billion in criminal penalties that accompanied BP's guilty
plea to 11 felony counts stemming from workers' deaths, felony
obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors.
It also includes an uncapped estimated $7.8 billion
class-action settlement to resolve claims from more than 100,000
individuals and businesses claiming economic and medical damages
from the spill.
Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that
exploded when Macondo ruptured, has a hearing on Thursday in New
Orleans on its proposed federal criminal settlement.