Gulf Oil Spill Update

Mar 19, 2013 1:38 PM

Transocean CEO: Rig Workers Should Have Done More

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Transocean employees should have done more to detect signs of trouble before the company's drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 workers and triggering the nation's worst offshore oil spill, the company's chief executive testified Tuesday.

But the Swiss-based drilling company's own investigation of the disaster didn't find any mistakes beyond the rig floor, Transocean Ltd. president and CEO Steven Newman said. He testified on the 14th day of a trial designed to determine the causes of BP's well blowout and to assign fault to the companies involved. Newman said Transocean didn't identify any "management failures" that led to the blowout.

"I think we had a good system in place," he said.

Newman said Transocean agreed in January to plead guilty to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act because its rig workers on the Deepwater Horizon played a role in botching a crucial safety test before the blowout.

"Do you blame the crew that night?" Transocean attorney Brad Brian asked Newman.

"Do I blame the crew? Do I wish the crew would have done more? Absolutely. I am not sure that that's the same emotional content as blame," Newman said.

Newman, however, said BP ultimately was responsible for deciding how to perform the safety test and for determining whether it was successful.

Two BP rig supervisors, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, are charged with manslaughter in the 11 rig workers' deaths and await a separate trial. An indictment last year accused Kaluza and Vidrine of disregarding abnormally high pressure readings during the safety test.

No Transocean employees have been charged with crimes, but the company pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge in February and agreed to pay $1.4 billion in criminal and civil penalties as part of a settlement with the Justice Department.

BP's internal investigation of the blowout also spared its own upper-level managers from any blame. Instead, the London-based oil giant issued a report that outlined a series of mistakes by rig workers and faulted decisions by other companies.

Newman said that when another company executive called him in Geneva, Switzerland, to tell him the rig was on fire and was being evacuated, Newman could tell from the man's voice that "something was terribly wrong." He immediately flew to Houston to meet with Transocean and BP officials before traveling to New Orleans, where he met with Coast Guard officials and relatives of workers who died in the blast.

However, Newman touted the company's safety culture, saying any rig worker is empowered to call a halt to a drilling operation. If a worker sees any cause for concern, he said, "You not only have the right but the obligation to call a timeout."

"Safety is one of our core values," Newman said. "I think it is fundamental to what we do. "

Newman said Transocean temporarily suspended operations on its entire fleet of rigs after four workers were killed in separate incidents within a 92-day period in 2009.

"I don't think there's any other conclusion you can draw than we had a problem," Newman said during cross-examination by plaintiffs' attorney Robert Cunningham.

The deaths, coupled with an increasing number of "high-potential incidents," prompted Newman to order an independent review of the company's safety management system.

"I think sometimes the difference between a high-potential incident and an actual injury is nothing more than luck," Newman said, citing an example of rig equipment that falls harmlessly to the deck instead of hitting somebody.

"Are you telling us that control of high-potential incidents such as what occurred on the Deepwater Horizon is a matter of luck?" Cunningham asked. "Is that Transocean's safety philosophy?"

"Absolutely not," Newman responded. "Our objective is to prevent all incidents."

Cunningham asked Newman if the Deepwater Horizon disaster was "very, very predictable" given the company's safety history during the previous year.

"It was certainly preventable," Newman said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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