BP e-mails show internal strife in weeks leading up to explosion

Internal strife ran rampant among BP’s Macondo well team in the month leading up to the deadly Deepwater Horizon accident, according to internal e-mails. One supervisor berated a lower-level manager for his attitude, and that manager later warned that last minute-changes meant rig personnel had “finally come to their wits end.”

The e-mails, which were shown to the Houston Chronicle, are expected to be entered into evidence at the hearing of the joint U.S. Coast Guard/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigation of the Macondo blowout and subsequent oil spill. The investigation resumes near New Orleans this week.

In a March 14, 2010 e-mail, David Sims, a drilling team leader for BP, responded to an accusation by well team leader John Guide that Sims was not listening during a conference call.

Sims, Guide’s superior, shot back that he was listening, outlined the many reasons why he made a particular decision, and then proceeded to berate Guide for his management style:

You seem to love being the victim. Everything is someone else’s fault. You criticize nearly everything we do on the rig but don’t seem to realize that you are responsible for every(thing) we do on the rig.

You seem to think that running is more important that well control. Left to go run in the middle of trying to pull the stuck logging tool free.

You will not call the rig in the ops room. you have to sneak out of the room and call them on your cell phone or go back to your office while everyone is in the ops room.

You can’t sit in a meeting and listen to others’ opinions without arguing …. You think when somebody has an opinion that they are demanding action. You complain that a bunch of young engineers are throwing out all kinds of wild ideas and that it is driving you crazy. You don’t listen. You key on a random word or phrase and then you fixate on that and don’t hear anything else. You are always defensive and the victim. You seem to not want to make a decision so that you can criticize it later.

I will hand this well over to you in the morning and then you will be able to do whatever you want. I would strongly suggest, for everyone’s sake, that you make logical decisions, based on facts, after weighing all the opinions.

Later, an April 8, 2010 e-mail to a group of BP engineers from John Sprague, a BP drilling engineer manager who oversaw all of the company’s Gulf of Mexico operations, discussed an organizational shift planned for later that month.

Sprague noted his displeasure with an aspect of the change, but conceded one of the likely reasons behind it: “Granted our Engineering teams are inexperienced.”

On April 17, 2010, three days before the blast, Guide wrote to Sims about the interactions between his operations team that worked directly with the drilling and the engineering team that planned the work ahead of time.

David, over the past four days there has been so many last minute changes to the operation that the WSL [Well Site Leaders] have finally come to their wits end. The quote is “flying by the seat of our pants.”

More over, we have made a special boat or helicopter run everyday. Everybody want to do the right thing, but, this huge level of paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos.

[snip]

The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner.

Sims sympathized with Guide in his response later that day:

For now, and until this well is over, we have to try to remain positive and remember what you said below – everybody wants to do the right thing.

The WSLs will take their cue from you. If you tell them to hang in there and we appreciate them working through this with us (12 hours a day for 14 days) – they will. It should be obvious to all that we could not plan ahead for the well conditions we’re seeing, so we have to accept some level of last minute changes.

Sims flew out to the rig the day of the blast but escaped.

Some of the e-mails were discussed previously in a report by Fred Bartlit, chief counsel for the presidential spill commission. In Chapter 5 of that report, Bartlitt wrote “… it is clear that the way BP handled authority and accountability created confusion during the Macondo project.”

Sims isn’t scheduled to appear at the Coast Guard/BOEMRE hearings, but he is expected to give a deposition in New Orleans this week in the massive collection of civil lawsuits that have been consolidated there.

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