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Feb 26, 2013

BY:Tom Fowler, Wall Street Journal

New Orleans -- BP’s internal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident lacked a key component in safety management, said an expert witness for plaintiffs suing the oil giant and other companies.

Robert Bea, a University of California – Berkeley engineering professor, said the company’s investigation following the deadly accident didn’t address possible systemic causes, which would include actions taken by management.

BP’s study, known as The Bly Report, looked at the direct cause of the blowout on the drilling rig and the role that equipment and crew on the rig played in the event, but did not look at the decisions made by management leading up to the accident, Mr. Bea alleged.

“This investigation, the Bly investigation, in fact, did not include systemic cause, did it?” asked Robert Cunningham, a plaintiff’s attorney.

“That’s correct,” Mr. Bea said.

“Is that a full and complete investigation of process safety…?” Mr. Cunningham asked.

“No,” Mr. Bea said.

The exchange came on the second day of the civil trial, held in federal district court, aimed at determining the degree of culpability that BP and the other companies have for the accident. On Monday lawyers for BP Transocean Ltd. , Halliburton Corp., the federal government, Gulf Coast states and local businesses traded barbs over who is to blame for the deadly 2010 explosion and oil spill.

BP will get to challenge Mr. Bea’s account during cross-examination this morning.

Other witnesses expected in the coming day include Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP Americas, and previously recorded depositions of former BP CEO Tony Hayward and Kevin Lacy, the former head of BP’s Gulf of Mexico Drilling and Completions operations.

A second trial, scheduled for the fall, will determine how much oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Together, they will determine the size of fines companies face under the Clean Water Act, which could total as much as $17.6 billion.

BP, which hired Transocean and Halliburton to work on drilling its well, has said the fines would likely be under $5 billion.

UPDATE: During cross-examination on Tuesday morning Mike Brock, an attorney for BP, tried to challenge the credibility of Mr. Bea’s earlier testimony by emphasizing the role the companies suing BP played in providing him information for a report he did that was critical of BP’s work leading up to the blowout.

“You understood that the plaintiff’s legal team was focused on finding documents that hurt BP, not helped BP?” Mr. Brock asked.

“At the time that Dr. Gale [a fellow researcher] and I entered the work we were searching for the truth, the facts.” Mr. Bea said.

Mr. Bea worked as a safety consultant for BP in the years before the blowout. During direct testimony he talked about many warnings he sent to BP management about how cost cutting would cut into the safety of operations.

“It was too lean, not mean,” Mr. Bea said of BP’s operations after cost cutting.

Mr. Brock countered by reminding Mr. Bea of many efforts the company and its management made over the years to improve its safety operations. This included the company starting new safety programs, surveying workers about safety operations and speeches made by top executives about the importance of safety.

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