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Aug 24, 2010 8:58 PM by Chris Welty

Oil Spill Panel Hears About Halliburton Warning

HOUSTON (AP) - Federal investigators probing the blowout that
led to the Gulf oil spill grilled a Halliburton official Tuesday
about concerns the petroleum services firm raised over the
potential for a severe gas flow problem if a BP plan was used.
Halliburton and BP were at odds over a key device, known as a
centralizer, that is used as part of the process to plug a
deepwater well like the oil giant was doing at the time of the
disaster. Halliburton's well design expert testified he told BP
officials April 15 - five days before the well blew - that fewer
centralizers would cause a bigger gas flow problem.
Centralizers are meant to ensure casing runs down the center of
the well bore. If casing strings are cemented off-center, there is
a risk that a channel of drilling fluid or contaminated cement will
be left where the casing contacts the oil formation, creating an
imperfect seal.
BP rejected Halliburton's recommendation to use 21 centralizers.
Instead, BP used six centralizers.
The April 20 blowout of BP's undersea well, which killed 11
workers and caused 206 million gallons of oil to spew, was
triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and
shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through
several seals and barriers before exploding, according to
interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's internal
investigation and obtained by The Associated Press in May.
E-mails released by Congress in June show that a BP engineering
official conveyed Halliburton's conclusions to a BP well team
leader and his own concerns that BP needed to install the extra
centralizers. The well team leader respo,'ed he didn't like the
idea because it would take 10 hours to install them.
"BP then in turn decided not to run the additional centralizers
without consulting me or their in-house specialists," Jesse
Gagliano, the Halliburton official, told members of the joint U.S.
Coast Guard-Bureau of Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement
investigative panel.
Tuesday's testimony was part of the panel's fourth session of
hearings aimed at determining the cause of the explosion and how
regulation, safety and oversight can be improved.
After answering questions posed by the Coast Guard and other
panel members, Gagliano was grilled by attorneys representing some
of the other parties involved, including BP. The oil giant's
attorney often took on a sarcastic tone, repeating questions and
responding with disbelief at times to Gagliano's answers.
Gagliano was asked to read the e-mail he received April 20,
about three hours before the well blew out, from Halliburton's
engineer on board the rig. "We have completed the job and it went
well," the rig-bound engineer wrote to Gagliano. The attorney
noted the engineer made no reference to gas flow problems or BP's
decision to use fewer centralizers.
Pointing to another 12-page document, prepared by Gagliano, the
attorney asked if it reflected his "best engineering judgment and
analysis."
"No, this reflects what was actually pumped," Gagliano
answered. "No, my best engineering analysis would have been to run
21 centralizers."
In addition to operating the Deepwater Horizon rig that
exploded, BP owned a majority interest in the ruptured undersea
well. Transocean Ltd. owned the rig. Anadarko Petroleum held a
minority interest in the well.
The documents released in June include a series of e-mail
exchanges between BP well team leader John Guide and BP dreiling
engineering team leader Gregory Walz. In an April 16 e-mail, Walz
said he had located an additional 15 centralizers in Houston and
could fly them out to the Deepwater Horizon.
Suggesting he knew he would get some resistance, Walz added: "I
do not like or want to disrupt your operations and I am a full
believer that the rig needs only one team leader. I know the
planning has been lagging behind the operations and I have to turn
that around. I apologize if I have over step my bounds."
Later the same day, Guide panned the idea in part because of the
time it would take to install the extra centralizers. "I do not
like this," Guide wrote in an e-mail to Walz.
Also Tuesday, a Transocean official said a high-ranking employee
indicated a pressure test problem had been resolved hours before
BP's Gulf of Mexico well blew out.
Daun Winslow told the government panel that there was confusion
among workers in the drilWashack, who were talking before the
explosion about a negative pressure test, a procedure typically
done before a well is plugged. Later in his testimony, Winslow
backtracked, saying instead he would characterize what was
happening in the room as a "discussion" rather than confusion.
Winslow said he left while the drill team and tool pushers were
discussing the pressure test to avoid disturbing them. He said the
highest-ranking Transocean person on the rig later gave him a
"thumbs up," indicating it had been resolved.
BP drilling engineer Brian Morel invoked his constitutional
right not to answer questions before the panel Tuesday.

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