BP’s Robert Kaluza pleads fifth amendment to avoid testifying

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
May 17, 2010

One of the ‘company men’ who were on the Deepwater Horizon platform before the explosion occurred decided not to testify in one of the hearings being held as part of the investigation conducted after the disaster.  Robert Kaluza “declined to testify in front of a federal panel investigating the deadly oil rig blowout,” reports the Miami Herald.  Kaluza told the U.S Coast Guard he was invoking his constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.

There can be only one reason why Mr. Kaluza decided not to testify and that is there may be a chance of criminal liability against him and BP.  As we reported yesterday, a witness has testified BP’s “company men” decided to fill the well with salt water instead of mud as then cement, which is the standard procedure.  The April 20 explosion killed 11 workers and the leak continues to spew oil up to today, more than a month later after the explosion.  Although the government said initially the spill was releasing around 210,000 gallons a day, scientists have found it could more than 3 million gallons a day.

Although the government’s hearing in Louisiana failed to determine the cause of the explosion, if one goes by the testimony from Truitt Crawford, it is clear as he explained that the explosion occurred because BP decided to save money by ignoring warning signs -unusual pressure and fluid readings on the rig — and to remove heavy drilling fluid from the well and replacing it with lighter-weight seawater that was unable to prevent gas from surging to the surface and exploding.

Platform workers testified that previous to the explosion, they heard a verbal fight over the decision to ‘take shortcuts’.  The workers say the argument was of the kind commonly experienced when multiple parties involved in offshore operations cannot agree on how things should be ran.  The consequence of that disagreement was the resulting deadly explosion.

The Herald reports that one employee who was worked for Transocean, warned they would have to rely on the structure’s blowout preventer if they went the way BP’s ‘company men’ wanted to go.  “He pretty much grumbled, ‘Well, I guess that’s what we have those pinchers for,” the rig’s chief mechanic, Doug Brown, said of Jimmy Harrell, the top Transocean official on the rig.  The word “Pinchers” probably referred to the shear rams in the blowout preventers, the tools of last resort used to stop the explosion.

Decisions related to the drilling process were in the hands of BP, and sworn testimony by Doug Brown included a quote from a BP high up who ultimately said that: “This is how it’s going to be.”  He ignored the warning signs from the mechanism as well as those from the platform’s crew and let the explosion happen.  During the hearing, Brown was asked if he remembered the name of the BP official who made the decision, but he said he could not remember it.

Robert Kaluza’s attorneys, Shaun Clarke and David Gerger, came out in defense of their client and defined him as a “dedicated, hard-working, conscientious man” whose 35 year experience working in oil fields would have been enough not to do anything wrong. He “did no wrong on the Deepwater Horizon.”  Another BP official, DOnald Vidrine, excused himself from the hearing under alleged undisclosed medical condition.  Other BP officials are to testify on Thursday.

The Justice Department did not assure the press if a criminal investigation was taking place or would take place in the future, but Congress has called for one.  In the meantime federal investigators asked Transocean keep anything considered to be potential evidence.  Carl Smith, a Coast Guard expert testified and reinforce the already known fact that  ‘company men’ have a lot to say on decisions made at an oil platform.


BP’s manager confesses his bosses caused explosion

AP

BP's CEO Tony Hayward

Senior managers complained oil giant BP was “taking shortcuts” by replacing heavy drilling fluid with saltwater in the well that blew out, triggering the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to witness statements obtained by The Associated Press.

Truitt Crawford, a roustabout for drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd., told Coast Guard investigators about the complaints. The seawater, which would have provided less weight to contain surging pressure from the ocean depths, was being used to prepare for dropping a final blob of cement into the well.

“I overheard upper management talking saying that BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blew out,” Crawford said in his statement.

A spokesman for BP, which was leasing the rig Deepwater Horizon when it exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, declined to comment.

The Coast Guard on Wednesday granted final approval for BP’s latest bid to plug the leaking well by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud and cement. There was no word on when that attempt might begin.

Meanwhile, the statements from workers ahead of a hearing in New Orleans on Wednesday and a congressional memo about a BP internal investigation of the blast indicated warning signs were ignored. Tests less than an hour before the well blew out found a buildup of pressure that was an “indicator of a very large abnormality,” BP’s investigator said, according to the congressional memo.

Still, the rig team was “satisfied” that another test was successful and resumed adding the seawater, said the memo by U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak to members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is investigating what went wrong.

There were other signs of problems, including an unexpected loss of fluid from a pipe known as a riser five hours before the explosion, which the memo said could have indicated a leak in the blowout preventer, a huge piece of equipment that should have shut down the well in case of an emergency. BP has cited its failure as a contributor to the blast.

The witness statements show rig workers talked just minutes before the blowout about pressure problems in the well. At first, nobody seemed too worried: The chief mate for Transocean left two crew members to deal with the issue on their own.

What began as a routine pressure problem, however, suddenly turned to panic. The workers called bosses to report a situation, with assistant driller Stephen Curtis telling one senior operator that the well was “coming in.” Someone told well site leader Donald Vidrine that they were “getting mud back.” The toolpusher, Jason Anderson, tried to shut down the well.

It didn’t work. Both Curtis and Anderson died in the explosion.

At the hearing in New Orleans on Wednesday, Douglas Brown, the Deepwater Horizon’s chief mechanic, testified about what he described as a “skirmish” between someone he called the “company man” — a BP official — and three other employees during a meeting the day of the explosion.

Brown said he didn’t pay particular attention to what they were discussing because it did not involve his engine room duties. He later said he did not know the BP official’s name.

“The driller outlined what would be taking place, but the company man stood up and said ‘We’ll be having some changes to that,'” Brown testified. He said the three other workers initially disagreed but “the company man said ‘This is how it’s going to be.'”

Frustration with BP and the federal government has only grown since then as efforts to stop the leak have failed. At least 7 million gallons of crude have spilled into the sea, fouling Louisiana’s marshes and coating birds and other wildlife.

President Barack Obama prepared to head to the Gulf on Friday to review efforts to halt the oil that scientists said seems to be growing significantly darker, from what they can see in an underwater video. It suggests that heavier, more-polluting oil is spewing out.

Ahead of his trip, Obama planned to address an Interior Department review of offshore drilling that is expected to recommend tougher safety protocols and inspections for the industry, according to an administration official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the public release Thursday of the findings of a 30-day review Obama ordered after the spill.

A new report from the Interior Department’s acting inspector general alleged that drilling regulators have been so close to oil and gas companies they’ve been accepting gifts including hunting and fishing trips and even negotiating to go work for them.

The top kill BP was poised to try Wednesday involves pumping enough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of the well.

Engineers plan to follow it up with cement that the company hopes will permanently seal the well. It may be several days before BP knows if it worked. BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward earlier pegged its chances of success at 60 to 70 percent.

Bob Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the procedure carries a high risk of failure because of the velocity at which the oil may be spewing.

“I certainly pray that it works, because if it doesn’t there’s this long waiting time” before BP can dig relief wells that would cut off the flow, Bea said.

Associated Press writers Mike Kunzelman in New Orleans, Jeff Donn in Boston, Ben Evans, Ben Feller, Fred Frommer and Erica Werner in Washington, Alan Sayre in Kenner, La., and Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this story.

U.S. Senate Also Covering-up Oil spill

Global Research

On Tuesday, the US senate began hearings into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which took the lives of 11 workers in an April 20oil spillexplosion and has since poured millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the region with an environmental and economic catastrophe.

Appearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the morning and the Environmental and Public Health Committee in the afternoon were executives from the three corporations implicated in the disaster: Lamar McKay, president of the US operations of BP, which owned the oil and the drill site; Steven Newman, president of Transocean, the contractor that owned the rig and employed most of its workers; and Tim Probert, an executive with Halliburton, which contracted for the work of cementing the rig’s wellhead one mile beneath ocean’s surface.

The hearing resembled a falling out among thieves, with multi-millionaire executives—who, until April 20, had collaborated in thwarting basic safety and environmental considerations—each blaming the other for the explosion.

McKay of BP blamed Transocean. “Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and its equipment, including the blowout preventer,” he said. “Transocean’s blowout preventer failed to operate.” Newman flatly denied that the blowout preventer was responsible for the disaster, shifting blame to BP, which he said controlled the operation, and Halliburton, which was responsible for the cementing around the well cap. “The one thing we know with certainty is that on the evening of April 20 there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing, or both,” Newman said. Probert of Halliburton pushed back, indicating that BP and Transocean had moved forward operations before cementing was adequately set.

There was, in fact, some harmony between the accounts offered by the executives of Halliburton and Transocean, both of whom appeared to suggest that BP ordered the skipping of a usual step in offshore drilling—the placing of a cement plug inside the well to hold explosive gases in place. That this step was passed over was corroborated by two workers on the rig, who spoke to the Wall Street Journal on condition of anonymity. The workers also told the Journal that BP first cleared the decision with the US Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS). Both BP and the MMS refused comment to the Journal.

Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineering professor, has gathered testimony from Deepwater Horizon survivors that indicates the rig was hit by major bursts of natural gas, promoting fears of an explosion just weeks before the April 20 blast, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. This raised concerns about whether mud at the well head should be replaced by much lighter seawater prior to installation of a concrete plug. The decision to proceed won out, according to information gathered by Bea.

Whatever the immediate cause of the disaster, the clear thrust of the hearings was to focus public outrage on a single, correctable “mistake,” such as a mechanical failure or regulatory oversight, in order to obscure the more fundamental reasons for the disaster: the decades-long gutting of regulation carried out by both Republicans and Democrats at the behest of the oil industry that made such a catastrophe all but inevitable.

A similar calculation lay behind Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Tuesday announcement that the MMS, which ostensibly regulates offshore oil drilling, will be split into two units—one that collects the estimated $13 billion in annual royalties from the nation’s extractive industries, and one that enforces safety and environmental regulations. Salazar’s claim that this would eliminate “conflicts of interest” in government regulation was nervy, to say the least, coming from a man with long-standing and intimate ties with oil and mining concerns, including BP.

Indeed, more farcical than the executives’ recriminations against each other was the spectacle of senators attempting to pose as tough critics of the oil industry. The US Senate, like the House of Representatives, the Department of the Interior, and the White House, is for all intents and purposes on the payroll of BP and the energy industry as a whole. Among the senators sitting on the two committees who have received tens of thousands in campaign cash from BP and the oil industry are Richard Shelby (Republican, Alabama), Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana), John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Lisa Murkowski (Republican, Alaska).

One of the few truthful moments in the hearings came when an exasperated Murkowski told the executives, “I would suggest to all three of you that we are all in this together.” Murkowski and Landrieu also expressed concerns that the disaster could compromise offshore drilling.

None with even a passing familiarity of the workings of Washington or the Senate can have any doubt that Tuesday’s hearings were but the opening of a government whitewash. The ultimate aim is to shield the major industry players and the financial interests that stand behind them from any serious consequences.

The assemblage of the guilty parties inside the Senate chambers took place as ruptured pipes on the ocean floor continued to gush forth oil at a rate conservatively estimated at 220,000 gallons per day some 40 miles off Louisiana’s coast. The rate could be many times greater, but arriving at a more accurate estimate is impossible because BP has refused to release its underwater video footage for independent analysis.

BP, which is liable for cleanup costs, has all but admitted it has no idea of how to stop the leak. Its attempt last weekend to lower a four story box over the piping failed when ice crystals clogged a portal at the structure’s roof, a result that was widely anticipated. BP is now considering lowering a much smaller box in order to avoid icing. US Coast Guard and BP representatives have also floated the idea of a “junk shot,” firing golf balls, tire shreds, and other refuse at high pressure into the well.

The drilling of two relief wells continues, with the aim of disrupting the flow of oil from the current well. This option will take a minimum of 90 days, during which 18 million gallons more oil will pour out at the low-end estimate. Even this option provides no certainty. “The risks include unpredictable weather, since the wells will be operational at the start of hurricane season,” according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. “The wells are also being drilled into the same mix of oil and gas that caused the original explosion, and operating two wells in the area creates the potential of igniting a second explosion that is more powerful.”

If the spill cannot be stopped—a distinct possibility—the ruptured well could release a large share of the deposit’s underground reserves into the Gulf of Mexico, which totals upwards of 100 million barrels of crude oil. And even if the spill is stopped at a lesser volume, with each day there is a growing probability that the oil will devastate the entire Gulf from Louisiana to Florida and possibly reach the Gulf Stream, impacting the Atlantic seaboard.

In the interim, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given BP clearance to resume pumping chemical dispersants into the oil column as it emerges from the broken piping. BP also continues to dump large quantities of dispersant onto the ocean’s surface. The environmental impact of such heavy use of dispersants is unknown, but a growing number of scientists and environmental groups are warning that the highly toxic substance could simply be transferring the brunt of the spill from the shore to marine ecosytems.

“The companies love the idea of using a chemical to spray on an oil slick to sink it,” Rick Steiner, a former professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Alaska, told the World Socialist Web Site. “It’s ‘out of sight out of mind’ as far as the public is concerned because TV cameras can’t see it. This is the big oil company playbook: public relations, litigation protection, and image.”

Oil has now washed ashore in three places: the Chandeleur Islands off Louisana’s coast, on the coast of a navigable channel from the Mississippi River known as the “South Pass,” and on Alabama’s Dauphin Island. Fishing has been blocked over a wide area, effectively imposing layoffs on thousands of fishermen, many of whom are self-employed and therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. Sightings of birds covered in oil and dead sea turtles washed ashore have increased in recent days.

In his testimony, McKay boasted that BP would make available “grants of $25 million to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida,” and that it has paid out approximately $3.5 million in damage claims to those affected by the spill. These figures, presented as an act of enormous magnanimity, are such a tiny share of BP’s revenues as to be almost inconsequential.

The company took home $93 million per day in profits—for a total of $6.1 billion—during the first quarter alone. The $3.5 million in damage claims paid out are significantly less than CEO Tony Hayward’s 2009 compensation, estimated at over $4,700,000 by Forbes.