BP manager didn't see drilling as 'high risk'

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
Last updated 14:44 02/03/2013

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BP's head of drilling engineering for the Gulf of Mexico at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster testified he didn't believe deepwater drilling was a "high-risk" activity before the April 2010 blowout of the company's Macondo well, according to newly released court documents.

Jonathan Sprague's March 2011 testimony is contained in a batch of more than 100 depositions that plaintiffs' lawyers submitted on Thursday (local time) to the federal judge presiding over a trial for litigation over the massive Gulf oil spill.

During his pretrial deposition, Sprague said he recognized the risks associated with deepwater wells but thought they could be eliminated.

Plaintiffs' lawyers and government attorneys claim BP and its contractors ignored risks in a rush to finish drilling the well.

Conrad Williams, one of the lead lawyers for Gulf Coast businesses and residents who claim the spill cost them money, asked Sprague if the Macondo project "constituted a high-risk operation".

"At the time, I did not believe it to be high risk," Sprague said.

"Sir, isn't it true that a failure to appropriately appreciate and analyse risk can result in catastrophic consequences?" Williams asked.

"I don't know that to be true in all cases," Sprague said.

"Well, risk wasn't appropriately analysed on the Deepwater Horizon during the five days before that rig was lost, was it?" Williams asked.

"I don't agree with that statement," Sprague said.

"I think at the time the individuals involved, which included BP, service companies and contractor personnel believed that they understood all the risk."

Sprague is not expected to testify in person at the trial that started on Monday.

However, the depositions submitted this week could be evidence for United States District Judge Carl Barbier to weigh if he ultimately decides how much more money BP and the other companies involved in the Macondo drilling project owe for their roles in the disaster.

The raft of documents also includes a June 2011 deposition by Henry Thierens, who was BP's wells director for the Gulf of Mexico until December 2009.

Thierens said he did not know BP had to submit a regional oil spill response plan to federal regulators from an agency that was known as the Minerals Management Service at the time of the April 20, 2010, blowout.

"So BP submitted this to the MMS for the Gulf of Mexico without clearing it through its Wells Director?" a lawyer from Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange's office asked.

"Yeah, I don't recall having seen this," said Thierens, who added that he did not look at the plan while working on the spill response, either.

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Thierens, who has since left BP, had described his job responsibilities as including "accountability for all aspects of MMS regulatory requirements".

But he could only recall having direct contact with MMS once during his three-year tenure as wells director and could not recall if he ever looked at any of the regulations governing Gulf drilling.

Alan Huffman, a well design expert who testified at the trial earlier this week as a witness for the federal government, said BP continued drilling in dangerous deep water conditions without keeping the Minerals Management Service fully informed.

Huffman said his review of internal BP documents and MMS records showed the oil giant engaged in a "consistent pattern of misreporting" to the federal agency and gave it a "very false impression" of what was happening on the drilling project.

- AP

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