BP official pressed at Gulf oil spill hearing

AP News
Posted: Apr 07, 2011 4:24 PM
BP official pressed at Gulf oil spill hearing

A BP official was questioned at length Thursday about the roles and responsibilities of personnel aboard an oil rig that exploded last April in the Gulf of Mexico.

The testimony came during a federal panel's continuing hearings into the explosion and resulting oil spill.

BP wells manager Ian Little was pressed repeatedly by panel members and attorneys on whether BP could have pushed rig owner Transocean to do more maintenance work on the rig's blowout preventer. BP leased the rig from Transocean.

Panel members had noted a day earlier that industry recommendations call for complete overhauls of blowout preventers _ massive devices designed to stop a spill like the one in the Gulf _ after five years. A Transocean official said that while parts were regularly inspected and, when necessary, repaired or replaced, a complete overhaul wasn't done.

Panel members also noted Thursday that the blowout preventer did not undergo a lengthy and expensive disassembly and inspection for recertification, as called for by federal regulations. A Transocean official testified last year that the regulations make reference to industry standards and were treated by Transocean as recommendations.

Panel member Jason Mathews, of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, asked Little if BP could have shut down the operation if it was unhappy with Transocean's operations. Little conceded that BP could have done so.

Little was the latest witness in the seventh round of hearings by the joint panel of U.S. Coast Guard representatives and BOEMRE officials, which began Monday. The latest round of hearings follows last month's report by a government-hired Norwegian firm, Det Norske Veritas. The report said the blowout preventer failed because of faulty design and a bent piece of pipe. The report appeared to shift some blame for the disaster away from BP PLC and toward Cameron, the company that built the massive device, and Transocean.

But this week's hearings have made it clear that neither panel members nor attorneys for any of the interests involved consider the issue settled. On Monday, a Det Norske Veritas vice president found himself defending the firm's testing methods and expertise. And subsequent questions and testimony Wednesday and Thursday revisited issues dealt with in past hearings and reports, including the maintenance and certification of the blowout preventer and whether lines of authority and communication were clear on the rig.