Fingers point during oil spill hearing

May 11, 2010 at 2:42 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- Company officials tried to cast blame on others during a U.S. Senate hearing into what caused the explosion and massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the absence of a recreated daily log of the events April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, "we should not be making a rush to judgment," Tim Probert, president of Global Business Lines and chief health, safety and environmental officer at Halliburton, said in his opening statement to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Halliburton was contracted for cement work on the oil rig that exploded April 20 and sank, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the gulf and menacing coastal environments and economies. Eleven workers were killed.

"As we hope you can appreciate, neither Halliburton nor any other party can make a judgment or offer any credible theories about what happened until, at a minimum, the well owner has interviewed everyone on the Deepwater Horizon to recreate the daily log of activities on (April 20)," Probert said.

Steven Newman, president and chief executive officer of Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig, asked a string of rhetorical questions, including "Was the well properly designed? Was the casing properly cemented and the well effectively sealed? Were all appropriate tests run on the cement and the casing?"

Newman said a "sudden catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing or both" led to the blast.

"Without a failure of one of those elements, the explosion could not have occurred," he said.

For his part, President and Chairman of BP America Inc. Lamar McKay said Transocean "had the responsibility for the safety."

He also urged against jumping to conclusions until an investigation was complete, adding, "We've not dealt with a situation like this before" involving drilling in waters 5,000 feet below the sea, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., gaveled the hearing to order saying: "We're here today because of a disaster that never should have happened. The sobering reality is that, despite the losses and damage that have already been suffered, we do not yet know what the full impact of this disaster will be.

The goal of the hearing is to create "a thorough factual record and informed discussion" of questions the disaster raised and put systems in place to ensure a similar catastrophe doesn't happen again, Bingaman said.

"If this is like other catastrophic failures of technological systems in modern history -- whether it was the sinking of the Titanic, Three Mile Island, or the loss of the Challenger -- we will likely discover that there was a cascade of failures and technical and human and regulatory errors," Bingaman said.

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