Canadian Manufacturing

Workers should have done more to avert deadly explosion, oil spill, Transocean CEO testifies

by Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press   

Canadian Manufacturing
Manufacturing Energy Oil & Gas Business justice

Swiss-based drilling company's subsequent investigation didn't find any mistakes beyond rig floor

NEW ORLEANS—Transocean employees should have done more to detect signs of trouble before the company’s drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 workers and triggering the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Transocean’s chief executive testified.

But the Swiss-based drilling company’s subsequent investigation didn’t find any mistakes beyond the rig floor, Transocean Ltd. president and CEO Steven Newman said.

He testified in a trial designed to determine the causes of BP’s well blowout and to assign fault to the companies involved.

Newman said Transocean didn’t identify any “management failures” that led to the blowout.


“I think we had a good system in place,” he said.

Newman testified that Transocean agreed in January to plead guilty to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act because its rig workers on the Deepwater Horizon played a role in botching a crucial safety test before the blowout.

“Do you blame the crew that night?” Transocean attorney Brad Brian asked Newman.

“Do I blame the crew? Do I wish the crew would have done more? Absolutely. I am not sure that that’s the same emotional content as blame,” Newman said.

Newman, however, said British oil giant BP ultimately was responsible for deciding how to perform the safety test and for determining whether it was successful.

Two BP rig supervisors, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, are charged with manslaughter in the 11 rig workers’ deaths and await a separate trial.

An indictment last year accused Kaluza and Vidrine of disregarding abnormally high pressure readings during the safety test.

No Transocean employees have been charged with crimes, but the company pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour charge in February and agreed to pay $1.4-billion in criminal and civil penalties as part of a settlement with the Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is hearing testimony without a jury.

Barring a settlement, he could decide how much more money BP and its contractors should pay for their roles in the catastrophe.

BP’s internal investigation of the blowout spared its own upper-level managers from any blame.

Instead, the company issued a report that outlined a series of mistakes by rig workers and faulted decisions by other companies.

Newman praised the Deepwater Horizon for its “exemplary track record” before the Macondo blowout.

Elsewhere, 2009 was a rough year for Transocean.

Newman said the company temporarily suspended operations on its entire fleet of rigs after four workers were killed in separate incidents within a 92-day period that year.

“I don’t think there’s any other conclusion you can draw than we had a problem,” Newman said during cross-examination by plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Cunningham.

The deaths, coupled with a number of “high-potential incidents,” prompted Newman to order an independent review of the company’s safety management system.


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