By Kristen Hays
NEW ORLEANS Feb 26 BP Plc fostered a
culture that put cost-cutting over safety before the deadly 2010
Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a noted forensic engineer said in the
first day of testimony in the federal civil trial centered on
"There is ample evidence of intense pressure within the
system to save time and money," said Bob Bea, co-founder of the
Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of
California, Berkeley. "With stress and pressure come sacrifices
Bea was the first witness for the plaintiffs, the U.S.
Justice Department and U.S. Gulf Coast states suing Macondo well
owner BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd and well cement
provider Halliburton Co.
The plaintiffs plan to call Lamar McKay, chairman and
president of BP America, to testify as a hostile witness once
Bea wraps up. McKay is a member of the London-based oil
company's executive committee, alongside Chief Executive Officer
Bea consulted with the White House commission that
investigated the spill and prepared a report faulting BP for the
plaintiffs in the case. He also had consulted with BP on risk
management prior to 2005.
He said BP cut its Gulf of Mexico costs by 22 percent from
2008 to 2009 while increasing oil and gas output by 55 percent.
Bea said during questioning by Robert Cunningham, a lawyer
for the plaintiffs, that he had told BP that "money isn't
everything" and that incentives for major accident prevention
should be on equal footing with incentives for profits.
BP lawyer Mike Brock, during cross-examination, pointed out
repeated public statements about commitments to safety by former
Chief Executive Tony Hayward and Andy Inglis, former global head
of exploration and production -- both of whom left their jobs
under pressure months after the disaster.
Hayward in particular became a lightning rod for the company
after the spill, at one point telling a reporter "I'd like my
life back" in the harried weeks after the spill.
Bea agreed that while statements about safety were positive,
they were not enough on their own. "The statement of the talk
has to be backed up with effective walk," Bea said.
The April 2010 blowout at BP's Macondo well caused an
explosion that killed 11 men, sank a rig and spewed more than 4
million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Bea later conceded to Brock that, in the years leading up to
the blowout, BP had invested in training programs and set aside
budgets to increase process safety - as the safe operations and
handling of hazardous materials are known.
Bea is well known in New Orleans, site of the trial, because
he was a key witness in litigation over failed levees when
Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, flooding much of the city and
leaving more than 1,800 people dead.
The non-jury trial before U.S. District Judge Carl Barber is
split into three phases, with the first focused on allocating
blame among the defendants and the severity of their negligence.
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