Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dr Bea testify on BP trial

Witness in Gulf oil spill trial charges BP had flawed safety record

BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill-Pass a Loutre.jpg
Oil collects in a boom at Pass a Loutre on June 11, 2010. (Photo by | Times-Picayune archives)
Richard Thompson, | The Times-PicayuneBy Richard Thompson, | The Times-Picayune 
on February 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM, updated February 26, 2013 at 5:54 PM
The BP oil spill trial's second day featured testimony from retired University of California-Berkeley civil and petroleum engineering professor Robert Bea, who was called by the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee to discuss how BP's safety record compares with industry standards.
During questioning from plaintiffs' attorney Robert Cunningham, the 76-year-old Bea testified Tuesday that he had warned BP executives multiple times about improving the British oil giant's safety procedures, beginning as early as 2001.
The failure to act fell squarely on the "upper leadership and management of the corporation," Bea said, "not just on the rig but the system, all the way onshore."
Despite the risk of drilling in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Bea testified that BP had not put in place its new operating management system -- which the company has described as a major improvement in safety management -- at the Macondo operation, which exploded in April 2010, killing 11 people and sending oil gushing into the Gulf. BP describes the system, implemented in 2008, as its "guiding principles and requirements for safe, reliable and compliant operations."
BP developed the system in the wake of a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, which killed 15 people and injured 180 others.
In a pretrial deposition, former BP CEO Tony Hayward, who stepped down in October 2010, was asked whether the Deepwater Horizon disaster could have been avoided if the operating system had been implemented in the Gulf before April 2010.
"There is possible potential. Undoubtedly," Hayward said, according to portions of a deposition discussed Tuesday.
Asked to characterize BP's failure to implement the process safety system across the board on its drilling operations in the Gulf, Bea didn't mince words.
"Tragic. Egregious," he said.
BP trial video update: Day 1
BP trial video update: Day | The Times Picayune's Tim Morris and Richard Thompson discuss the opening of the BP oil spill trial.Watch video

BP attorney Robert "Mike" Brock sought to poke holes in Bea's testimony as questioning continued into the afternoon.
Brock contended that Bea's background, which includes numerous stints as consultant to BP, was proof in itself that the oil company was working to improve its safety culture.
Brock also cited and discussed a plethora of internal and public BP documents, ranging from press releases to speech transcripts and email correspondence between BP executives and their partners in the Macondo oil well to show that safety was on the forefront of their minds, and that the operating management system in question was implemented in the deepwater Gulf by late 2009.
Bea, who lived in New Orleans in 1965 and lost his home to storm surge during Hurricane Betsy, is best known in the city for his role as the head of a forensic investigation team supported by the National Science Foundation after Hurricane Katrina. The team published an extensive report outlining how portions of the levee system failed as a result of improper engineering decisions by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Afterward, Bea was used as an expert witness by plaintiffs' attorneys in several portions of the complex litigation aimed at getting the corps to pay damages for the thousands of businesses and homes flooded during the storm.
Bea's work experience includes 16 years with various divisions of Shell Oil, including stints studying offshore accidents; five years as a vice president with Woodward-Clyde Consultants, and eight years as a vice president with engineering giant Bechtel Inc., before joining the university in 1989.
Immediately after the Macondo well blowout, Bea assembled a team of more than 60 experts and researchers to analyze the failures about the Deepwater Horizon rig and among BP's partners in the ill-fated venture.
But by the time Bea had finished his work, BP's own internal investigation into the fatal oil well blowout, completed by its safety chief Mark Bly and a team of 50 investigators mostly from within BP, had already pinned much of the blame on contractors. President Barack Obama's appointed Oil Spill Commission and others had also honed in on ways of improving offshore drilling.
Bea, in his testimony Tuesday, said that Bly's investigation was incomplete because it had not zeroed in on the root cause of the accident once the sequence of events leading up to it was determined.
Instead, his own expert report, which Beau and William Gale, a California-based fire and explosion investigator and consultant, submitted to the court, said that BP's drilling operations "violated industry-accepted process safety and risk management standards and even its own group-defined standards and practices."
On Tuesday, Bea described process safety as a "set of approaches and strategies who's goal is the prevention of catastrophic failures involving complex engineered, human-based systems." BP's Macondo oil well was over-budget and behind schedule, he said.
Bea's report said that even though BP executives "knew that an uncontrolled, deepwater blowout was one of its highest risks within the organization," the company refused to assess the potential of that happening. Transocean, which owned the rig and supplied the crew to BP, was not required to do so, according to the report.
BP emphasized cost-cutting over safety, according to the report, echoing a common refrain during opening statements Monday. BP officials were focused on "'slashing management layers' and embedding an 'every dollar counts' culture in the organization," Bea and Gale wrote in the August 2011 report.
The Plaintiffs' Steering Committee is expected to play portions of Hayward's deposition for the judge, probably next week.

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