Witness in Oil Spill Trial Accuses BP of Negligence

The practices of the oil giant BP came under sharp attack this week in a courtroom by an expert witness who said its negligence caused the 2010 explosion aboard a Gulf of Mexico drilling rig that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil.

A full day of testimony in the third day of a trial against BP was dominated by the witness, Alan R. Huffman, a petroleum geophysicist who was testifying for the government and private plaintiffs. Mr. Huffman accused BP of submitting misleading and selective data to federal regulators while drilling the Macondo well and of playing “fast and loose” with a safety test intended to measure the offshore well’s stability.

Mr. Huffman, who has worked for several major oil companies, also said BP had been irresponsible to continue drilling below 18,000 feet when the company should have known that the well was unstable. “This was beyond imprudent,” he said. “It was unsafe and dangerous.”


BP’s share of responsibility is a principal focus of the trial, and is also central to a settlement proposal offered by the Justice Department and five gulf states that are demanding that BP pay $16 billion in spill-related penalties and fines. If there is no settlement, the multiphase trial will determine not only responsibility for the accident but also how many millions of barrels of oil was actually spilled.

BP’s high priority for saving money continued to be a theme of the trial.

Kevin Lacy, a former BP senior vice president for drilling operations in the gulf who resigned a few months before the spill, told the court in a videotaped deposition that he was told by top management to cut costs throughout 2008 and 2009.

“I was never given a directive to cut corners or to deliver something not safely,” Mr. Lacy said, “but there was tremendous pressure on costs.”

In video testimony, BP’s former chief executive, Tony Hayward, acknowledged his cost-cutting plans, but he said that, at the same time, he talked “about safe and reliable operations.” Mr. Hayward lost his job because of the accident and some of his public statements during the crisis.

Lamar McKay, the former president of BP America and current chief executive in charge of global upstream operations, faced questioning from lawyers from Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and Halliburton, the cement provider, who insisted that BP was ultimately responsible for the accident.

“We agreed that we are part of the responsibility for this tragic accident,” Mr. McKay said on the stand. “We were part of the cause of the accident, yes.”

Donald E. Godwin, Halliburton’s lawyer, argued that BP had misinterpreted tests showing that the cement that sealed the well was defective. Had the test been interpreted properly, he said, the cement could have been fixed and the accident would not have happened.

Mr. McKay responded: “We agreed there were misinterpretations. That was one of the causes.” But he added that BP had depended on its contractors.

Last November, BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and other penalties and pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges related to the well blowout. It has also paid out $9 billion in a partial settlement with businesses, individuals and local governments. The company has set aside $42 billion for payouts, largely from selling off oil and gas assets across the world.

Four BP employees face criminal charges.

The government and Transocean have already come to a $1 billion civil settlement, and the rig company will pay an additional $400 million criminal penalty. Halliburton has not yet settled.