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At Senate Oil Spill Hearings, Execs Point Fingers

May 12, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Executives from BP, TransOcean and Halliburton convened on Capitol Hill yesterday for Senate hearings into the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Then, they spent much of the day trying to pin blame for the catastrophe on each other.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the result of a catastrophic explosion that occurred aboard the offshore rig on April 20. Eleven crew members were killed in the blast. So far, BP has had no luck staunching the leaking well, which is gushing at least 200,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

The every-growing spill is threatening both the ecology and the economy of the Gulf Coast. According to the Associated Press, at least 3.5 million gallons of crude oil have poured into the Gulf since the April blast. If it continues unabated, the spill will surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster next month.

The leaking well is owned by BP, which leased Deepwater Horizon from TransOcean Ltd. TransOcean subsidiary, Cameron International Corp., also provided the blowout prevention equipment for the rig that appears to have failed. Subcontractors from Halliburton had finished cementing the well head to the sea floor prior to the explosion.

At back-to-back hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, BP, TransOcean and Halliburton officials pointed fingers at each other. According to The Christian Science Monitor, Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, blamed the failure of TransOcean’s blowout preventer. Steven Newman, president and CEO of TransOcean cited problems with Halliburton’s cementing job. And Tim Probert, chief health, safety, and environmental officer for Halliburton, said his company was simply following BP’s design.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Senators were not pleased with the blame game. One accused the executives of doing a “Texas two-step” to avoid liability. “I hear one message, and the message is ‘Don’t blame me,’ ” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said. “Well, shifting this blame does not get us very far.”

Even as the executives tried to avoid blame for the oil spill, crews in the Gulf were trying desperately to contain the flow from the stricken well. This morning, BP said a “top hat” oil containment device has reached the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico and should be in position over a leaking well head and operational by the end of the week. Over the weekend, BP’s efforts to contain the well with a larger device failed after hydrates – ice-like crystals – formed and clogged the structure and made it buoyant.

According to a CNN report, this new device would keep most of the water out at the beginning of the capping process and would allow engineers to pump in methanol to keep the hydrates from forming. By Thursday, it should be apparent whether the device is working or not.

As we reported yesterday, BP is also planning to try and block the crude flow with a “junk shot,” in which materials including golf balls, knotted rope and shredded tires will be shot at high pressure into the well’s failed subsea blow-out preventer. It will be two weeks before that process is completed.

BP has also started drilling a containment dome to contain the leak permanently, but that process could take as long as three months.

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