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.