BP CEO Admits Company Was Not Prepared for Oil Spill
So after apologizing for displaying brazen insensitivity toward the families of the 11 workers who were killed in the oil rig explosion last month, BP CEO Tony Hayward is at it again – putting his foot in the mouth.
This week, BP’s CEO spewed a highly invaluable piece of wisdom – the company was simply not equipped with the tools necessary to contain an oil spill as large as the one that is now inching towards the East Coast. Hayward admitted that his company had been found wanting when it came to plugging the leak.
That profound statement came after an apology that Hayward was forced to issue after making a blatantly and horribly insensitive remark. On Sunday, Hayward said that he would like for the leak to be plugged as soon as possible, so he could have his life back. It was a shockingly insensitive statement to make to the families of the 11 men who died when the Transocean-owned rig, Deepwater Horizon went up in flames, and it shocked maritime lawyers, the public and legislators around the country to the core.
With 19 million gallons of oil already leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, large blobs of oil heading to the Florida coastline in time for summer tourist season, and uncertainty about fishing activity on Louisiana’s coastlines, it’s appalling to hear that BPs CEO “wants his life back.” Considering that the explosion was the biggest in recent history and that the spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster, Hayward has some gall talking the way he did.
U.S. Asks Court to Reject Transocean Liability Cap
The U.S. government has asked a federal judge to reject Transocean Ltd.’s application for Limitation of Liability in which it sought to limit its liability to $27 million for claims tied to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill.
The filing comes the same day the Justice Department announced an investigation of whether any criminal or civil laws were violated in the BP Plc oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the biggest U.S. spill on record. The government is reviewing whether there were violations of the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
The U.S. filed the motion in Houston federal court. The spill began after an April 20 fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, which London-based BP leased from Switzerland-based Transocean to drill its Macondo well in the Gulf.
The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 is pre-empted by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the claims of state governments are also not subject to the limitation act,
The case is In Re the Complaint and Petition of Triton Asset Leasing GmbH, Transocean Holdings LLC, 10-01721, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Houston).
BP Chose Riskier Sealing Option to Cut Costs
It was bound to happen. At some point, maritime lawyers, safety advocates and families of the 11 crew members who died in the Gulf of Mexico explosion, were bound to find out that cost-cutting measures/greed for profit had been behind the disaster. The New York Times has attained documents from a congressional investigator that show that BP chose a risky option of sealing the well, which likely led to gas leaking from the well. The option that BP chose only resulted in one barrier to prevent the gas from reaching the wellhead. The other option would have placed two barriers to ensure safety. However for financial considerations, BP chose Option One.
This week, investigators blamed the explosion on the failure of the cement casing which was done by Halliburton. Halliburton insists that all cement casing procedures were dictated by BP.
If this is true, then one of the world’s biggest oil companies that is worth in the trillions of dollars, let “financial considerations” dictate its procedures, thereby placing the lives of more than 100 oil workers on the rig at risk. It’s hard to fathom the extent of corporate greed and callousness that possibly resulted in this explosion. A company like BP has a history of violations and placing profits over worker safety that goes back years. That BP would choose a risky option that would place worker lives at risk by compromising on one of the most sensitive piece of engineering procedures on the rig, is hardly surprising to maritime lawyers. The only question is how workers’ families, workers and the public at large will choose to punish BP this time round. This time, there must be no soft approach, and no leniency.
Lack of Federal Regulations Governing Oil Rig Cement Jobs In Spite of Explosion Risks
In the early days after the Transocean oil rig explosion last month, speculation began to mount that a shoddy cement job while sealing the well, was responsible for the explosion. The name “Halliburton” first made an appearance around this time, since that was the company that had been responsible for sealing the well with cement.
Shoddy cement jobs have been linked to a large number of oil well accidents over the past decades. However, in spite of this, there are minimal federal regulations governing the process of sealing the well with cement. There are no regulations governing what kind of cement is to be used. The only regulations, if you can call them that, come from the American Petroleum Institute.
According to a review by the Associated Press, bad cement jobs have been linked to at least 34 offshore accidents since 1974. There isn’t any thorough investigation into these jobs, and most such accidents are simply attributed to “poor cement jobs.”
In 2005, a poor cement job was linked to an incident where steel casing that supported the well came off, leaking approximately 15,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
That same year, there was cement leakage, which caused gas to leak into a well. A major explosion was averted just in time, although the crew had to be evacuated.
Poor cementing was also linked to a 2007 oil rig explosion off Louisiana. In that incident, investigators found that the cement used had been of poor quality.
In the wake of the Transocean explosion, there have been calls for uniform standards for cementing. We currently have strict federal standards for any cement work that is performed on roads, highways and in the construction industry. It’s about time that the Minerals Management Services stops hobnobbing with oil industry executives, and begins taking its regulatory duties much more seriously.
The offshore injury lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris represent injured offshore and oil workers, helping them recover compensation after maritime accidents that occur off Texas and nationwide.
OSHA Cites Ship Builder over Fatal 2009 Explosion in Mississippi
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited a Mississippi ship builder in a fatal explosion in 2009 that killed two workers and left two other workers with serious injuries.
In November 2009, the four men were working at a ship building facility in Escatawpa in Mississippi. They were inside the inner bottom void of a tugboat that was under construction, when there was a major explosion. Two workers died, and the other two workers suffered serious burn injuries.
OSHA has completed its investigation, and has cited the company, VT Halter Marine Inc. for 17 willful and 11 serious violations.
The citations for willful violations include
- Failure to test the confined space
- Prevention of entry into confined spaces where there was a massive concentration of flammable vapors
- Failure to use explosion-proof lighting in hazardous circumstances
Willful violations are some of the most serious violations, and include those that were committed with a blatant and intentional disregard and indifference to employee safety and health.
The citations for serious violations included
- Lack of machine guarding
- Providing defective electric equipment
- Lack of adequate rescue measures for a confined space
- Failure to ventilate the confined space
- Missing guardrails
- Failure to use a proper and approved container for the disposal of flammable materials
Serious citations involve those that involve hazards that could lead to death or injury, and about which the employer knew or should have known.
This was a tragedy that could easily have been prevented. Worker lives are never an indispensable or acceptable risk of any job. It’s appalling that this employer could send its workers down into a clearly hazardous environment, with no way of rescue and no way to escape injury in case of an catastrophic explosion.
The maritime injury lawyers at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer and Harris represent longshoremen, dock workers, shipyard and ship building workers, and other workers who fall under the purview of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, and help them recover compensation for injuries sustained on the job.
Oil Rig Explosion Rescuers Testify About Deepwater Horizon Explosion
Oil Rig Crewmembers leaped eight stories into the Gulf of Mexico as flames engulfed the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, according to gripping testimony Tuesday during a federal hearing into last month’s disaster. Testimony revealed that nearby ships raced to the scene unfolding 50 miles offshore as the crew of a solitary supply boat plucked survivors from burning water.
The captain and crew of the Damon B. Bankston spoke of how they scrambled to save oil rig workers and coordinate rescue efforts. A Coast Guard official described doctors on the decks of rocking boats desperately performing triage of the burned and injured, and a four-day round-the-clock search that covered 5,300 square miles.
The meeting also led to legal arguments among several companies with potential liability, including BP, which owns the oil lease; Transocean, which owns the rig; Halliburton, which applied the cement that is suspected of being a factor in the explosion; and Cameron, which manufactured the blowout preventer atop the well, which seems to have failed.
Alwin Landry, the captain of the Damon B. Bankston, a supply boat alongside the oil rig, said he heard and felt an explosion and saw a green flash and heard a hissing sound on the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon. Debris began to hit his boat, and as he moved away from the burning platform, he saw three men jump into the sea. He ordered his boat’s rescue vessel to pick up anyone in the water.
The Bankston’s rescue crew picked up men from a debris field around the rig, in one instance pulling them aboard while oil burned nearby on the water’s surface. The crew also saved several deck hands who had abandoned the rig but found themselves in a life raft tied to the sinking structure. The crew of the rescue boat cut the raft free and, with men in the water clinging to the side of the raft, towed it back to the larger ship.
The Bankston was credited with recovering or taking aboard all 115 survivors, including Curt Kuchta, the captain of the Horizon.
Landry said he had a brief conversation with the captain. “They said they pressed the kill switch, didn’t know if it worked or not,” he said.
That detail was of great interest to the attorneys present, as it seemed to suggest a failure of the blowout preventer designed to keep oil and gas from erupting out of the wellhead.
NTSB Investigating Staten Island Ferry Crash; Criminal Act Ruled Out
It doesn’t seem that terrorism, sabotage or any intentional criminal act was responsible for the Staten Island ferry crash that injured 37 people on Saturday morning.
The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation into the accident. The agency has conducted interviews with several crewmembers, the captain and assistant captain. From these interviews, it appears that the crew was trying to slow the vessel down when the four engines suddenly turned off. The NTSB is looking at this issue closer to understand the reasons for the crash.
Several passengers were thrown to the deck and 37 were confirmed to have suffered injuries, when the ferry Andrew J. Barberie crashed into a dock. Passengers on the deck who noticed that the ferry was going much too fast to avoid the dock, braced themselves for impact,
This was the same ferry that had been involved in a tragic ferry accident in 2003. 11 people had been killed in that accident, which had been blamed on the pilot passing out at the wheel, causing the boat to hit a terminal at full speed. After that accident, the Andrew J. Barberi underwent a major overhaul before being put back into service. However, this most recent accident has left the boat with severe damage, and it will soon be put out of service.
On July 1, 2009, another Staten Island ferry crashed into a pier at the St. George terminal. More than a dozen passengers were injured in that accident, which was ultimately blamed on a mechanical malfunction.
For the passengers who use these ferries as their main means of transportation every day, there’s no other choice but to continue to use these vessels, in spite of their fears about accidents.
The maritime injury lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris represent injured victims of ferry accidents, offshore and oil rig accidents, commercial fishing vessel and cruise line accidents, and other maritime accidents across Texas and nationwide.
Staten Island Ferry Crash: What Went Wrong This Time?
According to an article in the New York Times, The chief engineer aboard the Staten Island ferry that rammed into a pier on Saturday told federal investigators that no engine alarms sounded before the crash, at which point two of the ferry’s four engines stopped.
The ferry vessel, the Andrew J. Barberi, never lost electrical power during the crash and its crew reported no problems with the propulsion system.
City officials quickly blamed a mechanical error for the failure of the boat’s braking system, but federal investigators say it is too early to determine a cause.
The boat’s captain, Donald Russell, and the rest of its crew members passed a test for the possible influence of alcohol. The results of a drug test were pending, officials said. Investigators will interview crewmembers today, including the captain and assistant captain, Maqbool Ahmed, who was at the controls in the pilothouse when the accident occurred. Retired ferry pilots said on Sunday that it was customary for the captain to drive the boat to Manhattan and for the assistant captain to pilot on the return trip. Mr. Ahmed, a six-year veteran, was promoted from deckhand about 18 months ago, said James DeSimone, the chief operations officer of the ferry system.
Investigators determined that the two engines closest to the dock stopped functioning at the point of impact. while the two other engines continued to operate normally.
When the same craft crashed at St. George in 2003, killing 11 people, the assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, had been operating from the pilothouse at the Staten Island end of the boat. The captain on that trip, Michael J. Gansas, was in the other pilothouse preparing for a Coast Guard inspection. Since that crash, city officials have required two pilots to be involved in navigation when the ferries are approaching the docks. Surveillance cameras were also installed in the pilothouses as part of the safety reforms in the wake of the 2003 crash.
Interior Department Halts Sale of Oil and Gas Leases
With cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill still on, the Interior Department is not in any hurry to sell new oil and gas drilling leases. Earlier this month, we blogged about the Obama administration’s intention of opening up more areas for offshore drilling. The New York Times is reporting that the Interior Department has put off plans of selling oil and gas leases indefinitely.
This month, there were to be a series of meetings on the leases, and these have been suspended too. The delayed sale of leases came as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew his support for offshore drilling off California.
All of a sudden, “offshore drilling” is a bad word. The media, environmentalists and maritime injury lawyers across the country have wasted no time calling out the oil and gas industry for the lack of safety precautions that caused the Transocean offshore explosion. It’s becoming clearer that cementing processes, blowout preventer malfunctions and a series of other factors were likely responsible for the explosion. All of these were preventable factors.
You aren’t talking about a lightweight industry that makes millions of dollars a year. The oil and gas industry is a multibillion dollar industry that continues to pump out profits for oil and gas companies and operators year after year. You’re talking about companies that have withstood the biggest recession since the Great Depression, with barely a sneeze. These are companies that can afford to have more safety aids, better designed safety devices, more numbers of personnel dedicated to safety and a gazillion other safety measures without suffering a dent in their wallets. Sadly, they have lacked the will to do so. Hopefully, the Transocean oil rig explosion and its fallout will cast a harsher spotlight on the oil industry’s safety record.
Texas Grand Jury Indicts Fleet Management Limited for Pollution
A federal grand jury in Corpus Christi, Texas has returned an indictment charging Fleet Management Limited with obstruction of agency proceedings, making false statements and failing to keep accurate pollution control records.
Fleet Management Limited of Hong Kong is charged with failing to maintain an accurate oil record book as required by the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), a U.S. law which implements the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly known as “MARPOL;” making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard; and obstruction. If convicted of all counts, the company may be punished with a fine of up to $3 million.
Two individuals, Prem Kumar, a ship superintendent for Fleet Management Limited and Prasada Reddy Mareddy, the second engineer of the M/V Lowlands Sumida, have both been individually charged with conspiracy. Kumar was also charged with obstruction of a Coast Guard investigation. If convicted of the conspiracy charge, both face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If convicted of obstruction of justice, Kumar faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
On Oct. 6, 2009, the Coast Guard was conducting a routine port state control inspection in Corpus Christi, Texas when an engine room crew member said the vessel was illegally discharging oily wastewater and that a center fuel oil tank on the Lowlands Sumida was fitted with a “dummy” or false sounding tube and that oily waste water was being stored in the tank until it could be discharged overboard.
Large commercial ships, such as the Lowlands Sumida, are required by MARPOL and APPS to maintain a record known as the oil record book to document all oil that has originated in the engineering spaces on the ship.
On April 21, 2010, John Porunnolil Zacharias, the chief engineer of the Lowlands Sumida, pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an oil record book and to obstruction for providing inspectors with a false engine room sounding log, and for altering a center fuel oil tank by installing a “dummy” sounding tube to conceal the contents of the tank. Zacharias is scheduled to be sentenced on July 7, 2010.
The case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division in Region VI and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Environmental Crimes Unit. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.