Gavels In the Gulf: The BP Trial - Week 6 In Review
Halliburton Case Concludes. Case Against Cameron Dismissed
The trial in New Orleans is really moving on. Halliburton completed and rested their case this week. The Judge dismissed the case against Cameron, having decided that there no issues with the BOP manufacture and that the problems stemmed from selection, operation and maintenance over which Cameron had no control. We heard from three Halliburton witnesses, their cement designer for the well, and further experts regarding the BOP and the well itself.
Halliburton’s first witness was the cement designer embedded in the BP offices at the time of the disaster. He made recommendations to BP regarding cementing, but whilst these were always fully discussed they were not always followed. This was the contractual position and it had to be the case because BP alone knew all the facts affecting the integrity of the well.
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His first concern was BP’s decision to only run six centralisers on the production casing, despite modelling which showed the potential for severe gas flow. Secondly the decision not to circulate bottoms up further increased the risk of channelling and cement contamination. Furthermore BP specified a late increase in the amount of retarder and on completion of the job decided not to run a cement bond log to verify top of cement.
On cross examination Halliburton were asked why they didn’t raise these as major safety issues but explained that these decisions were operational. If the cement failed on test then a remedial squeeze could have been done to establish integrity and doing so was fairly common practice. Failed cement job does mean blowout.
The Halliburton designer had been happy to use the cement leftover from the previous (Kodiak) well despite the fact that it contained defoamer. It could be ‘designed around’ by increasing the amount of surfactant (foaming agent) in the final mix and the properties of the cement could be confirmed by laboratory testing.
It has to be said that Halliburton’s lab testing evidence seems flaky. Full testing was not done on the cement actually pumped because of the late BP request to increase the amount of retarder. Halliburton maintain that successful tests, including those for strength and curing time were done on the mix but this did not include a test for foam stability. For this they relied on the test with original retarder and claim that the different amount would not have affected foam stability,
Full details of the slurry design, the testing results and the risks were shared with BP and the witness maintained that if the job were done again today be would change nothing.
On cross examination the plaintiffs’ lawyer referred to evidence given earlier by a Halliburton executive who had testified that the cement design used had a low probability of success. The inclusion of the defoamer meant that the cement was designed to do the opposite of what was intended.
There were also questions about the lack of Halliburton management involvement in the decisions made at working level. The embedded rep did not have routine technical supervision from Halliburton although he could call on help if needed. The court was shown three Halliburton manuals which specify that cement containing foaming agents should never be used for foam applications, irrespective of the fact that the effect can be neutralised. The fact that the witness was able to deviate from these standards and justify doing so by laboratory testing, showed a lack of corporate control by Halliburton.
The court also heard of concern that unloading the well started less than 10 hours after the completion of the cement job, despite some tests showing that the cement would not have developed sufficient strength at this time.
On cross examination BP lawyers were keen to stress the importance of Halliburton’s expertise. They were a ‘trusted advisor’ but had not highlighted to BP the fact that the job they provided was designed contrary to their own best practice contained in their manuals.
Halliburton’s BOP expert covered much of the ground already visited by other expert witnesses. He criticised the sequencing of the AMF (deadman) function saying that better cutting and sealing would have been achieved if the casing shear ram had activated before the blind shear ram. This would have substantially stemmed the flow from the well and allowed the blind shear ram to cut and seal without the danger of being eroded by the huge flow of well fluids and debris.
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He said the set up at the time was hardly best and safest technology (BAST), as required by MMS regulation because this better functionality was available. It could have been realised for the price of some software reconfiguration and extra accumulator bottles. Simple adherence to industry practice and citing widespread similar configurations was not good enough. The engineering facts speak for themselves and BP was deficient in not specifying the BOP configuration which gave the best chance of sealing the well in all circumstances.
Previously in the case we had heard two different theories as to when the AMF function did activate. There is no doubt that whether it fired at the time of the disaster or two days later by means of ROV, the blind shear ram did not cut the drill pipe and seal the well. All witnesses agree that this was because the pipe was off centre in the BOP at the time of activation. But was the pipe off centre at the time of the blowout or not until the drifting wreck of the Deepwater Horizon dragged it off centre?
Halliburton agreed with the theory put forward by Transocean that the flow at the time of the blowout was so strong that it lifted and helically deformed the drill pipe, forcing the pipe off centre also ramming a tool joint into the upper annular. The velocity of the fluid was sufficient to erode the ram elements and the tool joint, restoring the annular flow to surface because the eroded drill pipe effectively bridged the variable ram.
Halliburton however dismissed the Transocean claim that the AMF worked despite a flat battery and a mis-wired solenoid. Halliburton’s belief is that at the time of the explosion the pipe was off centre and the controls didn’t work; both factors that on their own would have stopped AMF from functioning.
Well Design and Construction
Halliburton’s expert witness criticised many aspects of the Macondo well itself, much of which we have heard before. The drilling margin was almost non-existent and the court how this influenced BP’s decisions in nine key areas. These included the decisions to run only six centralisers, not to run a cement bond log, not to circulate bottoms up before cementing and to use a long string casing instead of a liner. These decisions did result in time and cost savings and much was made of this by the plaintiff’s lawyers during cross examination.
The witness also had an alternate theory as to what actually happened in the well to cause the blowout. The casing landed on debris in the bottom of the well causing the shoetrack to buckle. When BP reported that the float collar had converted at over 3,142 psi in reality the sudden loss of pressure was the result of the ball extruding from the bottom of the autofill tube, the tube itself being unable to shear because it also was sitting in debris. This sudden release of pressure was sufficient to rupture the damaged casing if it hadn’t already failed due to the buckling.
This explains the lower than expected circulation pressure because it was now possible to circulate through the hole in the casing rather than via the flow ports in the shoe, which itself was sitting in debris! The cement job now had little chance of success and the breach in the casing, together with an unconverted float collar explains the almost unrestricted flow when control of the well was lost.
But all this doesn’t explain why the negative test was deemed to be a success. The witness said that the failure to call a halt at that stage to assess the situation amounted to recklessness on behalf of BP and Transocean, with BP bearing the most responsibility as it was their decision alone to move on and unload the well.
Halliburton are trying to convince the court that whilst they are a world leader in cement, they were only part of a team led by BP. BP was free to accept or ignore advice from contractors and as such it made the final decisions. Whilst Halliburton had concerns, they maintain that these were operational matters and not safety issues warranting the use of a ‘Stop Work’ authority. If the cement job failed it would be picked up by a cement bond log or the negative pressure test and if needed a remedial squeeze would be done. None of these concerns were causal to the blowout. That happened because BP and Transocean misinterpreted the negative pressure test and BP decided to unload the well.
Halliburton may be making this case pretty well, but unfortunately they have upset the Judge. He is frustrated by what he calls the ‘drip, drip’ of evidence still being revealed, particularly at their testing laboratory. We have previously seen before evidence that, in the aftermath of the disaster, tests were run and the results destroyed. Remember that in this case the Judge is also the jury; he is not the guy to make angry!
BP of course is anxious to keep Halliburton in the ‘blame frame’, whilst MI-Swaco and Cameron have already escaped with the Judge’s blessing!
Next week BP will begin their case.
Believe me, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!
READ MORE ABOUT THE BP TRIAL:
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