Just read the transcript of today's direct- and cross- examination of RIG's Senior Toolpusher, Randy Ezell, who was on the Deepwater Horizon at the time if the event, though off duty, and thus he survived. Very moving. It's posted on the court's website for all to see. Ezell's not through testifying -- BP hasn't examined him yet -- but my overall impression was that the guy and his RIG crew were extraordinarily well trained and qualified, and BP knew it (the DH had drilled over 50 wells in the gulf for BP!), and that the task of spinning any fateful mistakes they may have made on the night in question into gross negligence will be very tough for the PSC (plaintiffs' steering committee) to accomplish. The Justice Dept attorney seemed pretty supportive of RIG, as the US gov't has settled with RIG and so DOJ wants to crucify BP. It will be interesting to see what BP does with this witness when their attorney cross-examines him -- my bet is that they will try to get him to admit his crew was negligent along with BP but no more than that, as they don't think any defendant (including BP, of course) was grossly negligent. With BP's head man on the job (Don Vidrine) pleading the 5th, BP will have a hard time contradicting what other witnesses like Ezell say.
BP's approach with Ezell was to get him to acknowledge his (and RIG's) general familiarity with and (co)responsibility for interpreting pressure tests, and the importance of teamwork between all the companies on the job.
HAL's lawyer made the point, through Ezell, that had a cement log not been skuttled by BP it might have turned up shortcomings in HAL's cement job that HAL could have addressed had they known about the problem.
So, at least from Ezell's testimony, the judge would likely have been left with the impression that the RIG crew was capable and well trained, even if its (late) driller fumbled the ball by not noticing that the negative pressure test results signalled a problem that could have been controlled had it been caught earlier.
The headlines are correct, but they don't tell the whole story. Ezell did say that his subordinate (who died) told him over the phone that the negative pressure test result was fine, when it turns out it wasn't, and Ezell couldn't explain why he was told that because he wasn't on the drilling floor at the time and never saw the results himself. But he went into great detail about the guy's skill and training and said he'd trust him with his life. There's no question that mistake (failure to override BP's supervisors, who had themselves ok'd the test and were in charge of the operation, after all) was negligent. RIG acknowledges that, but the question is whether it is grossly negligent and warrants an award of punitive damages.
just invested an hour and worked through half the transcript. Extremely informative stuff. Excellent witness for TO. Though he wasn't "in the room" when a critical test was ostensibly misinterpreted by BP well leader and Ezell's subordinate, his testimony establishes that his subordinate was competent, thorough and safety conscious.
The best the LA attorney could do was note that TO had recently instituted a 21 day on/off cycle for rig-mates (up from 14 day cycle) and that there was some evidence that this wore down rigmates + at the time of the accident, many of TO's guys were in their third week of a cycle....
Riveting stuff. Happens to reflect very well, I think, on TO....
I haven't read much of the 2-1/2 weeks of trial testimony so far -- verbatim transcripts (in pdf format) of which are available to the public on the court's website -- but I have tried to follow the daily news reports. The impression I get is that the incident was a sort of Murphy's Law or perfect storm event involving a range of mistakes by BP, RIG and HAL personnel that could have been prevented had any of a number of things gone differently. As the reports indicate, a key factual/legal issue in this phase is whether the conduct of the defendants, or any of them, amounts to "gross negligence". As against BP, that would be an expensive blow, as it would increase (and perhaps quadruple) BP's per-barrel fine exposure under the CWA. As against RIG and HAL, a gross negligence finding would only be a problem if it resulted in an award of punitive damages to the class plaintiffs represented by the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee lawyers.
Seems to me that the more the responsibility for causing the event (in RIG's case, that means failure to notice the telltale signs of a "kick" in the well and not taking action quickly enough to stop it from turning into a blowout, and not keeping its blowout preventor in good shape) is diffused among BP, RIG and HAL -- which is the picture painted by the trial reports -- the less likely it is that any one defendant's acts or omissions will be seen as grossly negligent. And if BP isn't found grossly negligent, then it's hard for me to imagine that RIG or HAL would be tagged with that label. My bet is that the defense lawyers for BP and RIG and HAL think the trial is going pretty much how they figured it would, and that they're all banking on this diffusion of responsibility as their main defense against gross negligence. Plus, I think RIG and HAL also feel that even if by some remote chance they are found to be grossly negligent, an award of punitive damages against them would not follow. JMHO