By Kristen Hays
NEW ORLEANS Feb 26 After hearing claims that BP
Plc put profits above safety in the first day of court
testimony over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, a senior
executive for the oil company insisted the blame should be
Lamar McKay, BP's global head of exploration, production and
development, said on Tuesday the company's role as designated
operator on the doomed Macondo well did not mean it was the only
company at fault.
"The key point to me is it doesn't mean sole exclusive, it
means shared responsibility," said McKay, called by plaintiffs
in the federal civil trial in New Orleans centered on the spill
and its aftermath.
Recently promoted from president of BP America, McKay is a
member of the London-based company's executive committee,
alongside Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley.
He was just the second witness for the plaintiffs, the U.S.
Justice Department and coastal states, which are suing BP, rig
owner Transocean Ltd and well cement provider
Halliburton Co. The three companies have been lobbing
accusations at each other over the well blowout ever since it
happened on April 20, 2010.
McKay's testimony followed that of a noted forensic
engineer, Bob Bea, who said BP had fostered a culture that put
cost-cutting over safety before the accident.
"There is ample evidence of intense pressure within the
system to save time and money," said Bea, co-founder of the
Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of
California, Berkeley. "With stress and pressure come sacrifices
Bea consulted with a 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.
But on cross examination, BP lawyer Mike Brock pointed out
that in 2008 BP spent $205 million on work on its Thunder Horse
and Atlantis oil and gas platforms, compared with $43 million in
2009. The work on Thunder Horse meant output in 2008 was just a
fraction of its level the following year, Brock said.
Thunder Horse only began pumping oil and gas in mid-2008
after a three-year delay to fix design flaws on the platform and
repair leaks to seabed equipment.
WALK THE TALK
While Bea agreed that public statements about safety from BP
executives 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 the 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 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.
Bea 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.
The plaintiffs later sought to contrast BP's claims of a
safety culture with its own acknowledgment internally that it
worked in a risky business.
One of their lawyers, Robert Cunningham, presented McKay
with a document - labeled BP/Amoco - about other companies'
disasters, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in
Alaska, that said those "organizations provide cultures that
invite excessive risk taking, demand superhuman performance, or
develop complacency that result only in reactive safety
The document was used in Bea's report for the plaintiffs
finding fault with BP's safety practices, though McKay said he
was unfamiliar with it and did not know if it was authentic.
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