By Kristen Hays
NEW ORLEANS Feb 27 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 the well in 2009
outside the margin deemed safe by the industry and 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 went ahead with another interval.
"It is truly egregious to drill that extra 100 feet knowing
you could lose the well in the process," Huffman said.
Testifying on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, Gulf
states affected by the spill, and plaintiffs suing BP and its
partners, Huffman said the well was "dangerous and fragile" and
"they should not have drilled ahead at all".
In this first of the trial's three phases, U.S. District
Judge Carl Barbier will seek to allocate blame among well owner
BP, driller Transocean Ltd, cement services provider
Halliburton Co and others, unless a settlement cuts the
The April 2010 blowout caused an explosion that killed 11
men and sent more than 4 million barrels of crude spewing into
Huffman, a geophysicist who analyzed BP documentation of the
well's condition, said BP should have at least sought permission
from regulators before drilling without a safe "drilling margin"
- referring to the required minimum weight of the drilling fluid
compared with the rock the drill was penetrating.
He told Transocean lawyer Kerry Miller that a safe drilling
margin was the "first line of defense" against a blowout for the
operator, which in this case was BP. "It is the responsibility
of the operator to determine those parameters and tell the
drilling people what to do."
On cross-examination, BP lawyer Matt Regan challenged
Huffman's expertise, noting that he was not a regulator.
"You have never been to an offshore rig that's operating in
your life?" Regan asked, to which Huffman replied: "That's
Huffman said he was unaware of any documented violations of
drilling regulations on the Macondo operation. He said he
analyzed that operation at the Justice Department's request to
opine on the way the well was drilled and how it applied to
After more back and forth on drilling regulations and
margin, the judge interjected, seemingly to clarify Huffman's
point: "Is this a weakest-link issue?" Barbier asked.
"That is the practice I've seen industry-wide, your honor,"
Huffman answered. "If there's a weaker zone in the well, you
have to honor that zone in your drilling margin."
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 what he
said were 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 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