Opening Day at the BP Trial -- Phase 2
The legal battle over the responsibility for source control efforts and their duration got off to a blazing start. As Judge Carl Barbier noted, for the opening rounds we have an "Alliance" of parties against BP. The Alliance consists of Transocean, Halliburton, the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, and the States. Those make for some strange bedfellows, but they share one thing in common, they do not have the deepest pockets, BP does.
In Phase 1 of the trial, the debate was focused on which party bore how much of the responsibility for the blowout. Judge Barbier has not yet rendered his opinion, but counter to the conventional wisdom, BP scored some points by pointing out that Transocean owned and operated the rig, it was their safety management system that was in use, their personnel were monitoring the real time data and had control of the means to shut in the well, their policy manual told them how to shut in the well, and their duty was to maintain well control. They failed to maintain well control and the well blew out. That much is indisputable. So while Transocean had an indemnity clause in its contract with BP, Judge Barbier has already ruled that BP could not waive its rights under the legal principal of an implied warranty of fitness and merchantability. BP had a right to expect Transocean to perform professionally to maintain well control and the fact the well blew out is prima facie evidence that Transocean failed in its duty. Similarly, BP had a reasonable expectation that when Halliburton certified that they had a good cement job, BP had the right to expect that to be so. Fragments of Halliburton cement in the mud pouring out of the mud/gas separator onto the decks of the both the Deepwater Horizon and the Damon Bankston immediately before the first explosion was not a part of the contract. The evidence mounted to the point that BP has asked the Appeals Court to rule that it and its equity partner, Anadarko, should not be subject to any fines under the Clean Water Act.
As Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times Picayune reported
The section of the Clean Water Act at issue says: "Any person who is the owner, operator, or person in charge of any vessel, onshore facility or offshore facility from which oil or a hazardous substance is discharged ..." is considered responsible for the fines to be levied under the law. The law calls for a maximum fine of $1,100 per barrel, if the party causing the spill is negligent, or as much as $4,300 a barrel if the party is found to be grossly negligent.
According to BP and Anadarko, the source of oil was the Deepwater Horizon and the pipe its crew installed connecting the well to the ship, making only its owner, Transocean, responsible under the law.
Transocean and Halliburton are both feeling the heat. In its own criminal plea deal with the Department of Justice, Halliburton admitted to destroying evidence from two computer simulations that demonstrated that the issue of whether or not BP used enough centralizers was inconsequential to the blowout. This undercuts the DoJ's case against BP for criminal negligence based on a notorious email from a BP engineer who wrote in part, "Who cares? It's done..." The tone of the email was quite damaging, but the sentiment expressed, that there was little to be concerned about as far as there being channeling in the cement in the annulus, was borne out when the relief well finally intersected the Macondo well in September 2010 and no oil or gas was found in the annulus. Democrats in Congress and the DoJ have been in bed with Halliburton from the beginning on the too few centralizers meme.
Which brings us to the Alliance's strategy to shift blame back to BP by making it look evil. In opening statements, they have charged that BP deliberately delayed stopping the flow of oil by wasting time on the Top Kill. They have contended that BP should have stopped the flow of oil by June 6, 2010 by placing a second blowout preventer (BOP) atop the faulty one, a BOP on BOP operation, instead of trying the Top Kill first. This is why former BP engineer Kurt Mix was singled out for criminal prosecution by the DoJ. He was the BP leader of the a team, with Bill Burch of contractor Wild Well Control and Ole Rygg of contractor Add Energy, to do flow modeling for multi-phase flow. As the Alliance's expert witness, John Wilson noted in his report (pp. 16-17)
OLGA-ABC and OLGA-Well Kill Modeling
Another BP workgroup involved in flow modeling was led by BP drilling engineer Kurt Mix and was comprised of BP contractors Bill Burch from Wild Well Control and Ole Rygg from AddEnergy. As discussed above, the OLGA software is designed specifically for multiphase flow the OLGA software is designed specifically for multiphase flow and had capabilities exceeding ordinary petroleum well modeling software. The modeling performed by this group generally used the PI (bbl/day/psi) of 50 that the BP reservoir group had calculated.
My related professional experience is in Chemical Engineering, not Petroleum Engineering, but I can attest that multi-phase flow is a very specialized and difficult thing to simulate. The companies that my employer represents have technical experts dedicated to handling these cases and they belong to the Design Institute for Emergency Relief Systems (DIERS), a global organization dedicated to research multi-phase flow under the aegis of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The inference is that Kurt Mix was BP's multi-phase flow expert. We know from government witnesses, that Only 43.7 Percent of Gulf 'Oil Spill' Was Actually Oil. Combine that with the fact that he was directly involved in the Top Kill and he is a central figure to the dispute. From Mr. Wilson we also learn the identity of Mix's SUPERVISOR, to whom he sent the text message, "Too much flow rate--over 15000 and too large an orifice. Pumped over 12800 bbl of mud today plus 5 separate bridging pills. Tired...Going home and getting ready for round three tomorrow." It was John Sprague (pp.34-35).
Is the Obama Administration trying to intimidate Kurt Mix and shut him up with its trumped-up criminal charges against him? Does anyone think Obama indulges in bullying? Given that President Obama had staked his personal reputation on using the relief well to gain control of and then kill the Macondo well, and BP (and presumably Kurt Mix) beat him to the punch with the capping stack and static kill, we can see why Obama has such a personal animus toward the man who showed him up and did what Malia Obama had unsuccessfully asked her father to do, "Have you plugged the hole yet Daddy?"
We are advancing toward a definite answer to the question, Was BP's Kurt Mix a Criminal or a Hero? Many of the White House political operatives put in video cameo appearances. Thad Allen, Steven Chu, and Marcia McNutt all got their fifteen seconds of fame. But the real corker was the revelation that Climate Czarina Carol Browner submitted info to political operatives David Messina and David Axelrod. And we all know what Carol Browner and her henchmen were doing during the Top Kill operation -- they were drafting the Offshore Drilling Moratorium at 2 A.M. May 27, 2010. And we know who aborted the Top Kill before BP had completed all the proposed stages -- Steven Chu.
The question remains, Did Steven Chu Sabotage BP's Top Kill Effort Just as it Was Succeeding? Maybe the Alliance is chasing after the wrong culprit.