How Did the Oil Spill Begin?

New Orleans, LA Oil Spill Lawyer

On April 20, 2010, BP was in the process of temporarily plugging a deepwater well on the outer-continental shelf approximately 50 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi. Using Transocean’s mobile offshore drilling unit, the Deepwater Horizon, BP had struck oil at depths of around 18,000 feet, and was sealing the well for a few months until it could come back with another more permanent set-up to start production.

Because of a bad cement job, the well was not sealed in properly. Both BP and Transocean flubbed a critical test, and then consciously ignored a series of warning signs. By the time hydrocarbons reached the rig, it was too late, resulting in an explosion. A second explosion followed, and the rig burned for two days, before sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Tragically, eleven men lost their lives, and many others were injured.

Deepwater Disaster

When the rig hits the sea floor, the riser broke, and oil started spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. For 87 days, BP was unsuccessful in shutting in the well, resulting in the largest spill in American history.

Various different investigations and reports have poured over the details and come to different conclusions, but the attorneys appointed by the Court to steer the litigation felt it was important from the outset to look beyond what happened on the rig during those last few hours, and examine the cost-cutting and other bad decisions that had occurred in London, or elsewhere, many months before, that set the fateful wheels in motion, and doomed this project to failure.

As Defense Expert Patrick Hudson acknowledged, “single-point failures are rarely consequential.  Front-line operational personnel, such as drillers or mud engineers, inherit latent conditions in the system, that are created by people far removed in time and space from the event.”

Satellite View of Oil Spill in Louisiana At Macondo in particular, BP decided from the beginning to drill both an exploration and a production well (a ‘keeper well’) to save time and money. BP focused almost exclusively on potential formation fracture issues because they directly relate to the economic viability and production capabilities of the well. The loss of the first rig, the Marianas, after a hurricane, and a series of other set-backs rendered the Macondo project 45 days behind and nearly $60 million over budget. Moreover, the Deepwater Horizon was needed for the Nile well and then the Kaskida well after Macondo. The Nile job was expected to take around 30 days, and the mid-May deadline for ‘spudding’ the Kaskida – or risk losing the lease – was rapidly approaching.   Therefore, the crew on the Deepwater Horizon was under incredible pressure to finish the job.

In the months preceding the disaster, there were over a dozen well control events at Macondo, including four kicks and ten incidents of ‘lost returns’. The March 8th kick, in particular, was a significant event, which was reported back to London. Yet BP continued to drill “like a bat out of hell.” On March 27, 2010, a BP geologist warned his boss that if they continued, “it’ll all be in God’s hands.” Two days later, he recommended “serious discussions about pulling the plug early.” But BP continued drilling.

On April 4, 2010, the well experienced a complete loss of circulation. But BP intentionally chose to drill further, in order to better evaluate the reservoir’s production capacity. When asked for feedback following the March 8th kick, one of the members of BP’s ‘Tiger Team’ admitted that: “We were aware of the upper limit … and exceeded it…. I’m not sure it was a lack of communication or awareness as much as a ‘we can get away with this’ attitude.”

World-renowned Process Safety Engineering Expert, Dr. Robert Bea, (who many in the New Orleans area know from his work regarding the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina), presented the following chart at trial:

Key Decisions at Macondo Chart

Drilling Expert Alan Huffman called BP’s conduct “egregious beyond anything I have seen in my career.”

For more detailed information regarding not only BP’s conduct, but also the conduct of Transocean and Halliburton, in causing the explosions, fire and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010, please read the Court’s Findings of Fact that were issued on September 4, 2014.

“Phase Two” – The Spill

Many of us remember, during the weeks and months following the initial disaster, watching the live feeds on CNN or FOX or MSNBC, asking, with frustration, why the oil kept on flowing.

The attorneys who were appointed by the Court to steer the litigation realized early on that the question of who caused the original blowout and fire would likely be somewhat different from the question of why the Spill went on and on, for 87 days.

Therefore, the parties found themselves in somewhat of a unique situation:

While Transocean and Halliburton were sitting with BP at the Defense Table during the Phase One Trial – at which Plaintiffs attempted to prove that the egregious conduct of BP, Transocean and Halliburton all combined to produce the blowout, the explosions, and the fire on April 22, 2010 – Transocean and Halliburton actually sat together at a table of ‘Aligned Parties’ with Plaintiffs during the Phase Two Trial: all attempting to prove that the length and extent of the Spill was largely the result of BP’s utter failure to prepare for such an event prior to the blowout, as well as the lies that BP told to the U.S. Government and others during the Spill.

For more detailed information regarding the evidence that BP’s conduct contributed to the length and extent of the Spill, please read the Aligned Parties’ Proposed Findings of Fact and the additional Plaintiffs’ Proposed Findings and Conclusions submitted to the Court at the end of the Phase Two Trial.

 



Herman Herman & Katz, LLC
820 O Keefe Ave
New Orleans, LA 70113
Phone: (504) 581-4892

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