Friday, January 28, 2011

Shifting Procedures Upset BP's Rig Team

Workers Were 'at Wits End,' Say Emails Days Before Blast

Just days before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, the onshore BP PLC manager in charge of the drilling rig warned his supervisor that last-minute procedural changes were creating "chaos" on the rig.
"The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner," wrote John Guide, who directed the Deepwater Horizon's operations from BP's Houston offices.
Fire boats battled the blazing remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off Louisiana on April 21, 2010, a day after it exploded. The accident killed 11 and unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
His supervisor, David Sims, told him to tell rig workers "to hang in there." Then Mr. Sims signed off to attend a dance practice, promising to call later in the day: "We're dancing to the Village People!" he wrote.
In a follow-up email that evening, Mr. Guide appeared mollified. "I totally concur," Mr. Guide wrote back. "I told them all we will work through it together. I want to do better."
Three days later, the rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and setting off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Investigators have cited confusion over changes at the well in the preceding weeks as a key cause of the accident.
The April 17 emails, which were given to government investigators by BP and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, are among the most direct evidence yet that BP workers on the rig were stressed out by the numerous changes, and had voiced their concerns to BP's operations managers in Houston. That could raise further questions about whether BP managers took enough time to consider the consequences of changes they were ordering on the rig, an issue investigators say contributed to the disaster.
BP has said much of the blame for the disaster rests on its contractors, especially rig ownerTransocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co., which did cement work on the well.
In a statement Friday, BP said, "Issues addressed in the emails have been the subject of numerous investigations, and the issues discussed are not inconsistent with any published findings."
Both Transocean and Halliburton have previously defended their work on the well.
The emails focus on procedural issues and continuing alterations of plans for the Macondo well, which had proved difficult to drill for many months. They don't suggest that either Mr. Guide or Mr. Sims was concerned about an immediate safety risk.
On the morning of April 17, three days before the explosion, Mr. Guide sent the email to Mr. Sims to complain that "there has been so many last minute changes to the operation" that the rig's on-board managers had "finally come to their wits end."
"The quote is 'flying by the seat of our pants,' " Mr. Guide wrote.
Mr. Sims replied about 90 minutes later, telling Mr. Guide that the team working on the well should remain positive "until this well is over."
"It should be obvious to all that we could not plan ahead for the well conditions we're seeing, so we have to accept some level of last minute changes," he wrote to Mr. Guide.
On Friday, Mr. Guide referred calls to his lawyer, who said that his client "has done everything he could to bend over backwards to be as helpful as he can to any legitimate inquiry." Mr. Sims couldn't immediately be reached for comment. BP would not discuss whether the two men continued to hold those jobs, saying it was a personnel matter.
BP made several changes to the design of the well in the weeks leading up to the disaster, ultimately choosing an option that investigators say was riskier than other alternatives. The company also repeatedly altered its procedure for finishing up the well, which sowed confusion aboard the rig, according to subsequent testimony from workers. And a week before the explosion, BP made a series of rapid-fire changes to its drilling permit that were unusual, according to a Journal analysis of federal permit data going back to 2004.
BP has denied that its changes increased risk on the well or confused the crew.
Safety experts have long said that frequent procedural changes increase the risk of an accident, because they can create confusion and affect other operations in unintended ways.
BP had rules in place governing procedural changes, but its workers didn't consistently follow them, according to BP's September internal report on the disaster and the report released earlier this month by the presidential commission on the accident.
"Such decisions appear to have been made by the BP Macondo team in ad hoc fashion without any formal risk analysis or internal expert review," the commission's report said. "This appears to have been a key causal factor of the blowout."
Fred Bartlit, the general counsel for the presidential commission, said Mr. Guide's email "further confirms the commission's finding that BP poorly managed last-minute design and procedural changes at Macondo."
BP's internal report downplayed the significance of the decisions, saying they didn't contribute to the blowout.
BP's report did cite critical mistakes in the final hours before the rig blew on April 20 that were made by the same on-board managers that Mr. Guide said in his email were at wit's end. One of them, Robert Kaluza, later expressed confusion about the procedural changes in an interview with BP investigators after the explosion, according to notes from interviews reviewed by the Journal.
Mr. Kaluza has refused to testify before federal investigators, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. His lawyer declined to comment on the emails.
In his email, Mr. Guide said the situation had gotten bad enough that one engineer on the rig, Brian Morel, was considering asking for a transfer or quitting altogether. Mr. Morel couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
"Brian has called me numerous times trying to make sense of all the insanity," Mr. Guide wrote.
Mr. Sims said Mr. Guide should remind Mr. Morel that "this is a great learning opportunity" and that, "the same issues—or worse—exist anywhere else."
Write to Ben Casselman at, Russell Gold at Stephen Power at

Oil-Spill Lawyers Urge Clients to Settle

Move Would Shift Gulf Residents' Claims From Court to BP's Compensation Fund; 'Most of These People Can't Wait'

[BPFUND3]Kael Alford for The Wall Street Journal
Tacky Jack's, an Orange Beach, Ala. eatery whose owners received money from the $20 billion fund set up by BP and the Obama administration.
A group of lawyers suing BP PLC over its Gulf oil spill is moving instead to redirect dozens of its clients to make claims to the $20 billion fund set up by BP and the Obama administration.
While hundreds of people are still suing BP in federal court, the lawyers' move could end up robbing that ongoing litigation of the critical mass of plaintiffs that might be needed to prove broad economic losses.
The move by the lawyers—about 30 altogether—represents the first significant crack in plaintiffs' attorneys' plans to reap significant court victories for hundreds of people affected by the spill triggered by the April explosion that sank BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 workers.
Those still representing clients in the federal litigation said they would continue. "It is not our job to pass judgment on how individual lawyers choose to handle their clients' claims," said Brian Barr, one of the lead attorneys in the litigation against BP.
For the fishermen, resort owners, hoteliers and others who say they were financially harmed by the Gulf disaster, settling means a quicker payout but a lost chance at earning damage payments.
Zuma Press
Tallahassee, Fla., restaurant owner Jeff Stilwel at an October meeting on the Gulf oil spill's $20 billion compensation fund.
For their attorneys, the move is a chance to eke out a bigger settlement that could serve as a lure for other plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits and hire them to settle claims.
For BP, settling all the claims could save money on attorneys' fees and usher the matter out of the public eye rather than a lawsuit that lingers for years.
A BP spokeswoman declined to comment.
The group of lawyers represent about 5,000 claims that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the lawyers involved said.

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The claims would cover future losses expected to be suffered as the region reels from the spill's lingering impacts, such as tar balls that still periodically wash ashore. Almost 500,000 claims for emergency and final payments have been lodged so far with Washington, D.C., attorney Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the $20 billion compensation fund.
The lawsuits against BP were consolidated and are being heard by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. Attorneys in the federal litigation are moving ahead, taking depositions and interviewing key witnesses in an action that could end up costing BP millions.
The federal litigation is sprawling and also includes environmental claims against BP and other defendants as well as civil racketeering and securities suits. Those branches of the litigation will proceed regardless of how many plaintiffs stick with their economic suits. Any criminal case the government may file wouldn't be affected.
The move away from the courts by the alliance of attorneys—led by Daniel Becnel in Louisiana—represents a new tactic for lawyers who weren't named to lead the federal litigation and so are ineligible to reap the biggest fees.
Last week, over dinner at a resort hotel in Florida, Mr. Becnel and two other Louisiana attorneys, Camilo Salas and J.R. Whaley, hammered out a plan to proceed with settling by the end of February the claims of their clients and others represented by different attorneys in the coalition.
Still other attorneys, including those who represent families of some of those killed or injured in the rig explosion, are in similar negotiations with Mr. Feinberg, according to several people familiar with the situation.
Plaintiffs face a dilemma: fight in court and potentially reap big rewards, or turn to the fund and get a faster payout for their past and likely future losses but forgo any damage payments.
Anyone who reaches a final settlement with Mr. Feinberg must waive their right to sue BP and other defendants. "Most of these people can't wait," said Mr. Becnel. "They don't have the financial wherewithal."
New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith said he advised his clients, among them hoteliers, restaurant owners and fishermen, to drop their suits so he could negotiate with Mr. Feinberg "in good faith." He filed motions to dismiss the suits last month.
Mr. Smith, who is part of the group that is aligning with Mr. Becnel, said other plaintiffs could bail on the federal litigation if the group's settlement talks are successful.
The attorneys brokering the settlements are charging clients roughly 12.5% of their total haul, compared with as much as 40% lawyers might reap in court victories.
The raft of claims being presented to Mr. Feinberg also includes people who haven't sued but might turn to the court if unhappy with their final offer from him.
Mr. Feinberg, who served previously as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, has been touring Gulf states trying to draw as many people as he can to the fund.
He instituted a plan last month to fast track final payments for some applicants by cutting down on red tape and allowing those who already received emergency payments to receive final, lump-sum payments of either $25,000 for businesses or $5,000 for individuals.
As of Wednesday, Mr. Feinberg had paid 168,502 claims altogether for a total of $3.35 billion. He will release the general methodology he plans to use to calculate final settlements next week.
Since Mr. Feinberg started his campaign, plaintiffs' attorneys who are leading the federal lawsuits have worried that the fund, which can be accessed without hiring an attorney, would decimate attempts to sue BP if potential clients filed claims.
The settlement talks also signal a rift among plaintiffs' attorneys handling oil cases.
Those who were upset that they weren't chosen as members of a committee to lead the litigation are more inclined to now turn to the Feinberg fund, as it gives them an alternative not offered in most mass torts."At the end of the day I think lawyers should be focusing on their individual clients, and I'm going to connect the dots the most fair way possible," said Louisiana attorney Richard J. Arsenault who is taking his clients' claims to Mr. Feinberg. "Justice delayed is justice denied."
Write to Dionne Searcey at

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BP Accused by Lawyers of Breaking Racketeering Law in Spill

Bloomberg  January 25, 2011, 12:05 AM EST
By Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Allen M. Johnson Jr.
Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) — BP Plc was accused by lawyers for victims of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history of breaking civil racketeering laws by engaging in a pattern of violations that led to the disaster.
“BP engaged in a pattern of fraudulent conduct directed at regulators from the inception of the Macondo project, continuing through and after the spill and to this day,” Stephen Herman and James Roy, lawyers for hundreds of oil-spill victims, said yesterday in a filing in federal court in New Orleans. “BP’s fraudulent actions and omissions were part of a broader pattern of unlawful conduct that it has employed over the years to place profits over safety.”
Herman and Roy are liaison counsel for a committee representing plaintiffs in more than 400 lawsuits over damages for personal and economic injuries caused by last April’s explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Louisiana coast.
The rig, which was owned by a unit of Transocean Ltd., was drilling the well, named Macondo, for BP at the time of the blast. BP is the only company named as a defendant in the spill victims’ master civil RICO complaint.
Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman, declined to comment on the filing.
Also yesterday, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood asked the judge overseeing oil-spill litigation against London-based BP to take an oversight role to “correct deficiencies” in the $20 billion spill-claims fund run by Kenneth Feinberg.
‘Legitimate Claims’
Feinberg has been criticized by spill victims’ lawyers for his administration of the claims process through which BP has said it would pay “all legitimate claims” filed by people and businesses damaged by the spill. Critics contend Feinberg has delayed or denied claims without adequate explanation and established protocols that encourage cash-strapped claimants to accept small, quick payments to avoid years of litigation.
“It is the state’s position that this court has jurisdiction over the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, including its administrator Kenneth Feinberg,” Hood said in papers filed in federal court in New Orleans. Feinberg’s fund “is nothing more than a surrogate for BP in the administration of the claims process that BP is required to provide” under federal law, Hood said.
Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Feinberg, declined to comment.
Hood said Feinberg hasn’t cooperated with the attorneys general of the five Gulf Coast states or changed the fund’s claims payment process as they requested. He attached 61 pages of correspondence between the state attorneys general and Feinberg fund officials.
Release Required
Requiring claimants to release BP and all companies involved in the spill from liability for any future damages to settle their claims quickly is unfair, Hood wrote Feinberg on Nov. 9.
“Only people who are beaten down, poor, and/or desperate would agree to the terms of the proposed release,” Hood said. “The excessive breadth of the release will lead the public to believe” that the fund’s goal “is not to assist people in the Gulf, but to assist BP in taking advantage of this downtrodden group of people,” he said.
BP’s own report into the Deepwater Horizon disaster placed much of the blame on its contractors, including rig owner Transocean and Halliburton Energy Services, which provided cementing services for the well. BP has consistently maintained that cost considerations don’t compromise safety in company operations.
Racketeering Allegations
Herman and Roy claim in their 93-page filing yesterday that BP knowingly broke U.S. environmental laws, skirted federal rules and regulations governing offshore oil and gas extraction, and misrepresented its ability to stop and clean up a deepwater spill.
They cite examples of BP conduct taken from reports issued by the Obama administration’s presidential spill commission and the University of California at Berkeley’s Deepwater Horizon Study Group. Details are also drawn from documents and testimony presented to Congress and a joint panel of offshore regulators and the U.S. Coast Guard, which is also investigating the incident.
‘Disastrous Incidents’
The Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill “were foreshadowed by a string of disastrous incidents and near misses in BP’s operations on land and at sea,” Herman and Roy said. “BP has, since at least 2001, used this enterprise to conduct the related acts of mail and wire fraud comprising the pattern of racketeering.”
The victims’ lawyers claim BP overlooked or downplayed the importance of “significant problems related to the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment and maintenance.” The rig was leased to BP for its entire nine-year history.
BP was “on notice” of problems concerning the rig’s blowout preventer, alarm systems, ballast systems and other “significant deficiencies” after a September 2009 company audit of the Deepwater Horizon found 390 overdue maintenance jobs, many of which were of high priority, the lawyers said.
They also claim BP well managers intentionally misrepresented portions of the Macondo well-drilling plan to regulators and misled spill responders on the best methods for stopping the underwater gusher, which released more than 4.1 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
The case is In Re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, 2:10-md-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
–With assistance from Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan. Editors: Charles Carter, Michael Hytha.
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at; Allen M. Johnson Jr. in New Orleans at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In Honor of Dr. Thomas B. Manton, a True Modern American Hero

Posted on  by concernedcitizensofflorida

A BP Gulf Oil Spill HERO is railroaded through the Florida Criminal Justice System, then dies after being assaulted in the Florida State Prison System
Dr. Thomas B. Manton passed away on Wednesday, January 19th, after suffering an assault at Liberty Correctional Facility in Bristol, Florida. He was serving an unlawful 15-year prison sentence, after being wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. Given Tom’s advanced age, serious medical conditions and health problems, and complete lack of criminal history, he should not have been placed into the general prison population. The Florida Department of Corrections further failed Tom Manton when they exposed him to the dangers associated with violent criminals who prey on other inmates just like Tom.
Tom was the former President/CEO of the International Oil Spill Control Corporation which was one of the very first oil spill control companies in the world formed outside of the rubric of the Oil & Gas Industry. In this capacity he helped create many of the protocols and establish many of the standards that are still in use today throughout the realm of oil spill control. He became an increasingly vocal critic of the BP response to the Gulf Oil Spill, and wrote five searing articles in that regard. He was particularly distressed that the US Federal Government allowed BP to completely take charge of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster area, as his experience taught him that “the offending oil company should never be given command over the oil spill response”.
Tom Manton was one of the founding members of the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference in Tallahassee, FL. In this capacity he formed the very backbone of this International Citizens’ Initiative offering his wealth of experience, broad and deep knowledge base, and penetrating insights into the complexities of proper oil spill remediation. Tom also brought an invaluable international network of professionals and contacts, many of whom joined the cyber-conference after his spirited recruitment. He truly appreciated the enormity and seriousness of the BP Gulf Oil Spill very early on, and set about the process of educating the US Government, as well as the States of Florida and Louisiana, about the huge challenges that lie ahead.
When Tom Manton was framed for a crime he did not commit, many of us wondered who it was that exercised so much power within the Florida Criminal Justice System. He was railroaded through the criminal justice process with such speed, force and determination – after the BP Oil Spill received so much national and global attention – that many of us could only come to certain disturbing conclusions. Furthermore, when a 15-year sentence was handed down, after Tom was led to believe that time served would be his only prison requirement, all of his colleagues became very concerned. His sentence, given all the extenuating circumstances, exceptional disregard of various criteria, and flouting of sentencing guidelines, was unprecedented in Florida history.
In light of these, and many other extraordinary points of fact surrounding his entire case, we are compelled to ask, “Just who is responsible for the death of Tom Manton – a true HERO of the BP Gulf Oil Spill?*
More importantly, this conference now poses the following question: “How will this nation, which Tom Manton served with great self-sacrifice, generosity of spirit and concern for his fellow Americans, honor his awesome legacy?”
Dr. Tom Termotto
Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference
Tallahassee, FL
OilSpillSolution@comcast.netSKYPE: Gulf_Advocate
*Certainly the very mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Matt Simmons, another courageous voice with international stature who informed the world about the true state of affairs in the Gulf of Mexico, comes to mind when considering the silencing of Tom Manton.