“In BP Indictments, US Shifts to Hold Individuals Accountable” — New York Times, 15 November 2012

In April 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered an explosion. The rig’s crew was 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, drilling 5,000 feet under the sea floor in the Macondo Well, when it sprang a leak (a very large leak). The crew checked the well’s pressure but misread the results, incorrectly estimating the oil flow’s pressure.

Earlier this month, in connection with the Deepwater Horizon spill, two BP supervisors, Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, and one BP deepwater explorer, David Rainey, were indicted. Vidrine and Kaluza were on the rig, making crucial decisions before it exploded; both have been charged with 11 counts of manslaughter in the deaths of 11 crew members. After the explosion, Rainey testified to Congress about the number of barrels of oil that were discharging daily into the water. Allegedly, his claims were false approximations – he was charged with obstruction of Congress.

In charging these three individuals, the Justice Department is making strides towards holding executives responsible for their actions. However, BP is also paying a hefty $4.5 billion in fines, and has pled guilty to 14 criminal charges.

If the crew hadn’t misinterpreted the rig’s test results, the oil-undertaking would have ended. The indictment stated that Vidrine and Kaluza were negligent in their analysis of the oil spill, ignoring the irregular pressure test results and believing the crew’s “illogical” justifications.

Rainey also acted negligently by obstructing Congress and giving false statements about the amount of oil that was spewing from the well. While Rainey estimated the flow rate was 5,000 barrels a day, hundreds of thousands of barrels were actually pouring into the Gulf. According to the indictment, BP engineers estimated that the Macondo Well was capable of spilling as many as 146,000 barrels a day. Even when receiving this contradictory information, both the company and Rainey continued to maintain the 5,000-barrel estimate.

Kaluza and Vidrine face a maximum of 10 years in prison on each manslaughter count; eight years on each involuntary manslaughter count; and one year on a Clean Water Act count. Rainey faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Enhanced oil production is important, but so are safe operations with known, calculated and manageable risks.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 30th, 2012

Phinix LLC

Copyright 2012. All rights Reserved by Phinix, LLC.

www.phinix.net    skdas@phinix.net

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