NEW ORLEANS, March 19 (Reuters) - The chief executive of Transocean Ltd, owner of the rig destroyed after BP Plc’s Macondo well blew out in 2010, told a federal judge on Tuesday that his workers made mistakes that day, but were not responsible for overall safety on the rig.
Steven Newman, who had been CEO for less than two months when the blowout occurred, was emotional at times as he spoke of the company’s role and responsibilities on the well prior to the explosion that killed 11 people and caused the worst-ever offshore oil spill in the United States.
“We acknowledge that we should have done more,” he said under gentle questioning by a lawyer for Transocean, in the fourth week of a civil trial to determine blame for the spill.
Newman’s voice shook as he spoke of the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, but he denied that Transocean cut corners when it came to safety procedures.
Noting that the rig contractor is compensated by a daily rate paid for providing and operating the rig, he said: “We get paid for 24 hours worth of work, so there’s no incentive to take 24 hours worth of work and condense it into 23 hours.”
The Justice Department, the U.S. Gulf states affected and other plaintiffs are suing BP, Transocean and other companies for economic and environmental damages related to the spill.
BP executives have accepted the company’s role in the accident, but believe Transcoean and well cementing provider Halliburton Co share the blame.
Newman said Transocean was responsible for safely performing its own operations on the rig, but that overall responsibility for safety at the well site rested solely with BP.
In the same New Orleans federal court two weeks ago before Judge Carl Barbier, a Transocean worker who was on the Deepwater Horizon during the blowout acknowledged there was a misinterpretation of trouble signs beforehand.
Transocean in January pleaded guilty to federal charges connected with violating the Clean Water Act and agreed to pay $1.4 billion in criminal and civil fines and penalties.
In its plea, Transocean also admitted that members of its staff were negligent in failing to investigate signs the well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well.
Before Judge Barbier, BP must show its own mistakes do not meet the legal definition of gross negligence required for the highest amount of damages. BP has already spent or committed $37 billion on cleanup, restoration, payouts, settlements and fines.
On top of that, liabilities could stretch into the tens of billions of dollars if Barbier determines BP or other defendants were grossly negligent.
Oil from the spill came ashore from Texas to Florida, threatening livelihoods and state economies dependent on seafood and tourism, making the list of plaintiffs a long one.
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. (Editing by Braden Reddall, G Crosse)