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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Ousted BP Chief Denies Foresaking Safety

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - In the multibillion-dollar BP damages trial, the former CEO who infuriated the public by attending a yacht race during the oil spill and complained to the press that "I want my life back" testified Wednesday via a recorded deposition taken in London last summer.

Under questioning from plaintiffs' attorneys, Tony Hayward, flushed and looking slightly harried, denied that his drive to cut costs as CEO hurt safety and exacerbated risky practices at BP.

When asked, Hayward disagreed that "the culture of an organization is shaped by the leaders in it," though he acknowledged saying that "people do what leaders do."

Plaintiffs' counsel tried to steer Hayward toward agreeing that the Deepwater Horizon explosion was a reflection of his poor leadership at BP.

Hayward lost his position as a result of the oil spill.

"[Leadership's] not unique; it's not the only thing; but it's an important thing," Hayward said.

"Did you not say ... 'people do what leaders do'?" the attorney asked.

"I did say that," Hayward agreed.

He also acknowledged that before embarking on a campaign to cut costs in 2008 and 2009, which reduced staff by 5,000 and severely cut management positions, he had said that "too many people were engaged in decision-making, resulting in excessive cautiousness" at BP.

Kevin Lacey, who resigned as BP's senior vice president for drilling operations in the Gulf several months before the oil spill, also testified via prerecorded deposition Wednesday.

Lacey said that while he was never "explicitly" ordered to "cut corners" or to "do something unsafe" at BP, there was "tremendous pressure" to cut costs.

Later in the day, Alan R. Huffman, a petroleum geophysicist who testified for the government and private plaintiffs, called BP's drilling violations "egregious."

Huffman said BP consistently misreported to the Minerals Management Service.

Hufffman said BP chose to drill the Macondo well too quickly and without using all of the necessary supplies in an effort to cut costs. He said the oil giant was sloppy in performing pressure integrity tests that are essential to evaluating cement jobs and testing mud weight.

"They played it fast and loose with their pressure integrity tests," Huffman testified.

"Drilling ahead was not only unsafe," Huffman said, "it violates every standard for drilling that I can think of. It was truly egregious."

He added: "They were drilling without permission from the MMS. You don't do that. You don't drill without permission from the government."

Lawyers for Halliburton, the company responsible for supplying the cement to the ill-fated well, and Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, questioned former BP president Lamar McKay earlier Wednesday.

Halliburton attorney Don Godwin pressured McKay, who was president of BP at the time of the disaster, to acknowledge that the failures of BP's well that led to the massive blowout involved more than whether or not Halliburton did a decent cementing job.

Godwin asked McKay to acknowledge that Halliburton's cement job was never confirmed, as it should have been, by a negative pressure test.

A correct interpretation of a negative pressure test will determine whether the cement is the correct consistency.

McKay said the negative pressure test was "misinterpreted."

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over the bench trial, which is expected to last 3 months. It's the first of two trials scheduled on civil damages. This round will focus on what caused the disaster, and will try to apportion blame for it. Part two, slated to begin in September, will try to determine how much oil spilled.

If attorneys can prove BP was "grossly negligent," fines under the Clean Water Act could rise from $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled to as much as $4,300 per barrel.

Most estimates put the spill at around 4.9 million barrels. BP claims that exaggerates the amount by 20 percent. The government has agreed not to try to fine BP for the 810,000 barrels of oil it managed to contain. Possible fines for Clean Water Act violations alone, aside from damages to national resources, could range from $4.4 billion to $17 billion.

BP insists it was not grossly negligent.

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