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Safety consultant accuses BP management of 'classic failure' in Gulf spill

02.27.2013  |  HP News Services

Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who has worked as a safety consultant for BP starting in 2001, said he sent many warnings to the company's management in the years before the accident about how cost-cutting would hurt the safety of operations.



NEW ORLEANS -- An expert witness for plaintiffs suing BP said the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident was "a classic failure of management and leadership in BP," at the trial here in Federal District Court over liability for the disaster.

Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who has worked as a safety consultant for BP starting in 2001, said Tuesday that he sent many warnings to the company's management in the years before the accident about how cost-cutting would hurt the safety of operations.

"It was too lean," Mr. Bea said of BP's operations after it reduced spending.

The testimony came on the second day of the civil trial that will determine the degree of culpability that BP and the other companies have for the accident, which killed 11 workers.

On Monday, lawyers for BP, drilling contractors Transocean and Halliburton, the federal government, Gulf Coast states and local businesses traded barbs over who was to blame for the explosion that unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

Mr. Bea also criticized BP's own internal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident for failing to investigate management decisions leading up to the accident. Instead, he said, BP's study, known as The Bly Report, focused on the direct cause of the explosion on the drilling rig and the role that equipment and crew on the rig played.

During cross-examination, Mike Brock, a lawyer for BP, tried to challenge the credibility of Mr. Bea's testimony, emphasizing the limits of his expertise and emphasizing the role the companies suing BP played in providing him information for a report he did that was critical of BP's work leading up to the blowout.

"You understood that the plaintiff's legal team was focused on finding documents that hurt BP, not helped BP?" Mr. Brock asked.

Mr. Bea said he and his colleagues "were searching for the truth, the facts."

Mr. Brock also walked Mr. Bea through many efforts the company and its management made over the years to improve its safety operations, including surveying workers about safety operations.

BP has argued that the accident was due to many errors and misjudgments by all of the companies involved in the project, including rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton.

Other witnesses expected soon include Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP Americas, and previously recorded depositions of former BP CEO Tony Hayward and Kevin Lacy, the former head of BP's Gulf of Mexico operations.

A second trial, scheduled for the fall, will determine how much oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Together, they will determine the size of fines the companies face under the Clean Water Act, which could total as much as $17.6 billion.

BP, which hired Transocean and Halliburton to work on drilling its well, has said the fines would likely be under $5 billion.

Dow Jones Newswires

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Lukmanul Hakim

I was working in BP before, and I don't really agree that it is generic problems in all part of BP, and also not agreeing that it is only specific to BP.

After in BP, I worked as consultant, mostly delivering process safety management topics and its related elements. In the one year servicing to several petrochemical and oil&gas companies, I would say that many have similar problems with what BP has that leading to GoM incident.

Anyway, with the very limited knowledge about drilling operations and about the incidents itself, I am not going to judge who is responsible for what. But, I would agree with Prof. Bea criticism that the BP Investigation Report (Bly Rport), which is available in the internet, is still in "immediate cause" stage rather than concluding the "root cause".

Hirak Dutta

WE have to create a safety culture that is totally intolerant of any unsafe situations. The rank & files must be empowered to STOP unsafe operation & should not be questioned later for their act.
I feel sad that we are not learning form the repetitive mistakes of similar nature and thus unable to ensure safe operation.
Top Management of companies must create a climate of learning too.
Please remember that Bottleneck of the bottle is at the TOP.

Scott Mills

The quote "It was too lean." is an opinion, not a fact. A true investigation would look at the implementation and audit trail of the safety systems - it isn't easy to get right - most companies are still trying to get there - even the big players. I find it unlikely that BP conciously scrimped on safety.

Al Ward

There has been a great deal of focus of the event however the process of the hire and testing of the rig and its equipment e.g., design of the BOP not fit for the drill string being used. Root cause has many different paths but to get to get there and it is the point to which when the barrier fail's that impact goes unseen until something happens. This was the very first barrier that failed which laid the trap, once you start to feed in the other failures thing start to spiral out of control before you get to the point of actual failure. Competence in understanding the well design and impact on changes barrier failed, Management of the change barrier failed. Boundaries of management responsibility not clear barrier failed. All opportunities missed to intervene. BP is no different from any other operator in that they have processes and procedures in place. It is the culture that is displayed from the top that dictates how people react and operate within the processes and procedures. I agree with the comment regarding safe operations is cost effective as it reduces downtime which at the end of the day reduces costs in lost revenue.

K. Fitzpatrick

I was involved in a project inChina in which we referenced BP"s "Guideline for BP Managers." The document spells out specific criteria for BP personnel actions. Obviously there were failures at the Deepwater Horizon facility; however, for Prof Bea suggest that suggest that cost cutting and "classic" management failure is the primary cause is inappropriate. One wonders wht Prof Bea"s warnings were.

Kazi Mujtaba

I fully agree with Robert that deepwater horizon incident was failure of BP management. BP must not be a blame thrower because it is solely BP responsibility to ensure safe working practices in its domain. Otherwise BP would continue to digest the bitter pills like Texas Refinery explosion, deepwater horizon & several un-reported incidents. Cost cutting approach is killer, good companies never compromise to the safety because they know that safer is the operation higher would be gain.

Dr. Amarjit Bakshi

This was told to BP lot of times a they were hiring also inexperienced personnel and had systematic problem in all areas. It is the same problem that hiring managers are afraid of hiring competent personnel and it is the industry culture as personal are not rewarded for accomplishments but for in which group you are and the mannager is powerful enough to put incompetent yes personnel.

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