BP left out critical details in spill report, attorneys allege

Day 1: BP fires back
Day 2: Exec says BP knew blowout was possible
Day 3: BP drilled despite unsafe conditions, expert says

NEW ORLEANS — BP deviated from its own policy on responding to accidents by not determining how management contributed to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a company safety expert who led an internal investigation of the disaster testified Thursday.

Mark Bly, who received a promotion to an executive management position at BP after the company’s disaster report was issued, also indicated that the report didn’t fully account for all communications between rig and shore managers the day of the Macondo well blowout and Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

Plaintiffs attorneys at a civil trial in federal court in New Orleans are trying to show BP’s report was self-serving and incomplete and designed to shield the company from billions of dollars in damages that are a subject of the trial. Specifically, if BP were found to have acted with gross negligence, it would potentially face the maximum fines available under the Clean Water Act.

On Twitter: Live tweets from inside the courtroom

A Justice Department lawyer, Mike Underhill, asked Bly about a certain call that was made between a BP well-site leader on the rig and a BP manager on shore about a pressure test on the well. Bly said the call wasn’t mentioned in his report, though a presidential commission that investigated the spill determined that the call in question had been made. Lawyers for the plaintiffs and Justice Department have asserted the call an hour before the blast concerned anomalies in the pressure test.

Under questioning by a BP lawyer, Bly said he was generally aware of the call because of notes from other members of the investigation team. He said they would be in a better position than him to address the specifics of the call.

BP has admitted that it misinterpreted the test as a success and moved forward with procedures related to temporarily abandoning the well. By removing heavy drilling mud from the well, gas was allowed to freely flow up the well because the cement plug wasn’t holding.

Bly acknowledged under intense questioning that he was in charge of BP’s global safety operation at the time of the disaster and that his company has pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of 11 workers on the rig. But even though his probe didn’t look at management causes, he defended management’s actions.

“Obviously there was a terrible tragedy. I completely see that,” Bly testified. “But that doesn’t mean the management system we were using was an absolute failure.”

Bly said he and former BP CEO Tony Hayward decided on the scope of the investigation days after the disaster off Louisiana.

Bly told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that he could have gone further in the probe, but there were limitations in terms of availability of witnesses and information. Bly said that, among other things, the probe didn’t analyze the potential that cost-cutting contributed to the blast. He said it was decided to limit the probe to operational causes, rather than systemic causes, even though company policy at the time required both factors to be considered.

“We got an exception from it,” Bly said of the policy.

On cross-examination, Bly said the exception was appropriate under the circumstances.

Timeline: The Gulf oil spill’s complex web of lawsuits and indictments

Bly’s testimony highlighted the fourth day of the trial. Plaintiffs also were expected to call to the stand petroleum technology expert and geoscience professor Andrew Hurst, though it was unclear if they would get to that before recessing until Monday.

During the first phase of the trial, which is expected to last three months, Barbier will hear evidence on causes of the blowout and will determine how to allocate fault, which may or may not include percentages of blame.

The second phase will address the amount of oil that spilled.

Barbier also is expected to determine if the disaster resulted from gross negligence. Further proceedings could determine how much in punitive damages should be assessed, and separate trials could determine damage awards for individuals and businesses that opted out of a multibillion-dollar settlement last year between BP and private parties claiming economic or health damages.

British oil giant BP owned the well and was leasing the rig from Swiss drilling contractor Transocean.

Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the legal trials surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:

Judge approves $1B civil settlement for Transocean (Feb. 19)
BP’s potential oil spill liability cut by $3.4 billion (Feb. 19)
Guilty: Transocean convicted in Gulf of Mexico oil spill (Feb. 14)
BP feud with US government over Gulf oil spill heats up (Feb. 13)
BP displays new Gulf of Mexico safety system (Feb. 12)
Documents: BP well-site leaders faced earlier indictment in spill case (Feb. 8)
BP completes $2.4B sale of Texas City refinery (Feb. 1)
Guilty: BP admits to causing deaths in spill disaster (Jan. 29)
Rig victim’s widow says Gulf disaster caused ‘inferno of grief’(Jan. 11)
Government accuses BP of being evasive on Gulf spill flow rate (Dec. 28)
Judge approves BP class action settlement (Dec. 21)