BP OIL SPILL TRIAL: BP WELLS SUPERVISOR FRUSTRATED BY LAST-MINUTE MACONDO CHANGES
Apr 16, 2013
BY: Richard Thompson, NOLA.com | The Times-Pacayune
BP's Houston-based wells team leader testified Monday that he had grown frustrated by a series of last-minute changes to the Macondo drilling project in the days before the well blew out.
John Guide, who worked for three decades in the oil and gas industry, including seven years as a drilling superintendent in the Gulf of Mexico, took the stand on the 27th day of the sprawling civil trial.
"These guys take a huge amount of pride in being able to -- it's their responsibility -- to get these jobs together," Guide testified about the well-site leaders he supervised. "That's one of their main responsibilities. And with the changing of little things, it was, you know, seriously making their job harder. My job was to make their job easier, and I didn't think that was happening."
During direct examination, BP lawyer Hariklia "Carrie" Karis questioned Guide about an April 17, 2010 email, in which he warned BP's manager for oil drilling operations in the Gulf, David Sims, that the 11th-hour changes had pushed rig leaders "to their wits end. The quote is flying by the seat of our pants."
Guide testified that the comment came from Donald Vidrine, one of two BP well-site leaders who were later charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 11 rig workers killed in the accident.
Last-minute changes in the well included BP's decision to go with six centralizers -- used to keep the drill pipe centered as cement was poured -- instead of the 21 recommended by Halliburton engineers, and discussion about using additional spacer fluid during the cement job.
"I didn't know about this. And it was just -- I was surprised," Guide testified.
His email reflected that tone. "The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner," Guide wrote in the message, sent three days before the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and exploded off the coast of Louisiana, leading to one of the largest oil spills in the nation's history.
Guide ended the note with a rhetorical question: "What is my authority? With separation of engineering and operations, I do not know what I can and can't do."
Karis pressed Guide on Monday about what point he was trying to make. "I was very frustrated," he said.
"If we wanted to have the same kind of success that we had prior to all the wells, you know, before the accident, that kind of approach, in my opinion, was not sustainable," Guide testified.
Despite the tension, Guide said that he and Sims were friends, and that he was trying to convey the sentiment of the men he supervised.
Karis asked Guide about an earlier email exchange with Sims following a March 8, 2010 kick in the well, in which there were differing opinions about how to proceed. "We need to talk. We cannot fight about every decision," Sims wrote in a March 14 response.
Later in the afternoon, plaintiffs' lawyer Robert Cunningham pressed Guide about whether his relationship with Sims was as cordial as described. Cunningham read through both email exchanges and unsent messages between the pair.
"This is the first paragraph out of that email from your friend, who you say is your good buddy, who you got along so good with?" Cunningham asked.
After an objection from BP's lawyer, Guide replied that he not previously seen the drafted message. "I only saw a couple of documents, a couple of snippets," he said.
Cunningham continued to work off the same thread, including a line of questioning on whether Sims was promoted over Guide, and if the well-site team leader was bitter.
Sims responded to Guide's 2010 email by saying that he had "a much longer response," but that he would hold off from sending it until the pair could talk.
"Let's go back to where the bottom, where you sent the email that he is responding to," Cunningham said. "You tell him he didn't listen. And we saw the email earlier, you never asked the well-site leaders' opinions and you explained what you were talking about. Do you remember that?"
Then Cunningham read a portion of the unsent email: "You seem to love being the victim," Sims wrote, according to the document. "Everything is someone else's fault. You criticize nearly everything we do on the rig but don't seem to realize that you are responsible for everything we do on the rig."
During testimony March 5, BPs safety chief, Mark Bly, said he was "probably" aware of the email while his internal investigation into the Macondo well blowout was underway. He downplayed its significance when asked whether the email was crucial in assessing the actions of BP management, specifically "that the operations supervisor onshore had written three days before the blowout that the operation is not going to succeed."
During the 2010 joint hearings by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, held to investigate the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP engineering team leader Gregg Walz testified that he believed they would get a safe cement seal along the walls of the well by spreading the six centralizers they already had, rather than by increasing the number to 21, as officials with Halliburton had recommended.
Walz and Guide were part of a group of BP leaders who decided not to run a key test of the integrity of the cement job, called a cement bond log. The British oil giant hired a team from contractor Schlumberger and flew them to the rig to perform the test, but it was never done.
Guide testified Monday that the decision not to run the test was not based on saving time or money.
"So you know of nothing as you sit here today that you should have done differently to avoid this disaster, do you?" Cunningham asked.
"I don't think I caused it," he responded.
Guide also testified that he did not record the March 8, 2010, Macondo well incident in the BP's database used for reporting incidents and following up on preventative measures. Cunningham asked whether he did not report the incident to avoid hampering his own safety record.
"And when you didn't do that, you violated your own drilling manual, didn't you?" the plaintiffs' lawyer asked.
"That's correct, because I didn't know that requirement was in there," Guide replied.
BP operated the well; Transocean owned and manned the Deepwater Horizon rig. For BP and the other companies, the first phase of the complex court case focuses on whether their actions leading to the accident constitute gross negligence or willful misconduct.
If U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier rules that BP deliberately ignored safety protocols, it would result in a four-fold increase in the billions of dollars of Clean Water Act penalties expected to be levied.