BP well leader asked ‘Are you going to fire me?’ before spill

Joe Carroll
Bloomberg News

BP engineer John Guide, leader of the team that drilled the Macondo well, expressed concern he could be fired five days before a blowout that killed 11 rig workers and triggered the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill.

Guide made the comment in an April 15 e-mail to his boss, BP Vice President David Sims, according to documents entered into evidence at a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department hearing today in Metairie, Louisiana.

Guide’s lawyer said the comment was intended as a joke.

“John was never concerned about being fired at any point,” David J. Stetler, a Chicago lawyer representing Guide, said today in an e-mailed statement. “He is kidding his boss (Mr. Sims) good-naturedly in the e-mail in question, something that should be obvious if read fairly and in context.”

Sims considered replacing Guide as wells-team leader in the weeks before the catastrophe, Jason Mathews of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said during the hearing, citing internal BP e-mails. Sims was critical of Guide’s work habits and his intolerance of opinions from other BP engineers that conflicted with his own, according to the documents.

Guide emerged last year during the federal hearings as one of the main decision makers in the weeks leading up to the blowout that sank Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon rig and halted deep-water exploration in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. As wells-team leader, Guide was responsible for vetting and approving each step in the design and drilling of the well.

Jogging Criticism

Sims criticized Guide for leaving the office to go jogging after part of the well caved in weeks before the April 20 catastrophe. While Guide was running, the rest of his team was struggling to figure out how to rescue stuck equipment from the hole, according to a draft e-mail composed by Sims and cited during today’s hearing.

Sims also considered moving Guide to Atlantis or Mad Dog, other BP projects in the Gulf of Mexico, and promoting another engineer to take over duties on Macondo, according to the e- mails.

When Sims requested a meeting in April 2010, Guide responded in an e-mail, “Are you going to fire me?” according to today’s testimony.

Guide was “in a state of professional chaos” in the weeks leading up to the disaster, Ronnie Penton, an attorney representing a Transocean worker who survived the catastrophe, said during today’s hearing.

Unaware of Tension

Ian Little, a BP vice president who oversaw all of the company’s exploration drilling in the Gulf of Mexico until early April 2010, testified today that he wasn’t aware of any tension between Guide and Sims. Both men reported to Little.

Guide was the BP manager responsible for ensuring the blowout preventer used on the Macondo well underwent all required inspections and certifications, Little said. BP discovered in a September 2009 audit of the rig that the blowout preventer was years overdue for maintenance, according to documents entered into evidence.

Little told the panel he didn’t know why Guide failed to make sure the blowout preventer was inspected and overhauled by its owner, Transocean.

A presidential commission investigating Macondo issued a 380-page report in January that called Guide the “de facto leader” of the Macondo project.

Guide’s name appeared 14 times in the report, more than any other BP manager or executive, including former Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward, who left the London-based energy company in October.

Crucial Decisions

The report noted that Guide vetoed a proposal to install equipment that may have prevented explosive natural gas from seeping into the well.

Guide, a University of Pittsburgh-trained engineer, led the $154.6 million Macondo project from a Houston office at the time of the blowout that left 17 workers injured in addition to the dead, and destroyed the $365 million vessel. The well leaked crude into the Gulf for 87 days, shutting thousands of square miles of fishing grounds and beaches before it was capped.