August 28, 2010 in Nation/World

Investigation focuses on well-design point man

Rong-Gong Lin Ii Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

BP drilling engineer Brett Cocales, right, confers with his attorney Philip Hilder during testimony at Deepwater Horizon investigation hearings Friday in Houston.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Cap to be removed

 NEW ORLEANS – Engineers will soon start the delicate work of detaching the temporary cap that stopped oil from gushing from BP’s blown-out Gulf of Mexico well and the hulking device that failed to prevent the leak – all while trying to avoid more damage to the environment.

 Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the spill response, told reporters Friday that engineers will remove the cap starting Monday so they can raise the failed blowout preventer. The blowout preventer is considered a key piece of evidence in determining what caused the April rig explosion that unleashed the gushing oil.

Associated Press

HOUSTON – Federal investigators are homing in on the role that BP’s Houston operations had in possible design flaws that may have contributed to the April 20 Deepwater Horizon well blowout.

In particular, they are focusing on John Guide, a Houston-based supervisor who BP workers said was the main official with authority over the well design.

“What was interesting to me is that (two BP officials) have pointed at Mr. John Guide, the well-team leader, as the decision maker,” U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen, the lead investigator, said at a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department hearing in Houston. “If that is true, that is a huge responsibility for one position and on one man.”

And in testimony Friday, BP drilling engineer Brett Cocales said it was Guide who had given the order to use fewer safety devices in the oil well, known as centralizers, than was recommended by a contractor.

The use of centralizers – doughnut-shaped sheaths that surround pipe and keep it from knocking into the side of the well – has become a key issue in the investigation. A properly centered pipe helps to ensure a uniform cement seal, which is important to keep dangerous bubbles of methane from coming into the well, shooting up the pipe to the rig and exploding.

Jesse Gagliano, an employee for contractor Halliburton, has testified he suggested to BP that it place 21 centralizers in the well bore. But BP opted to use six. He sent the company an e-mail two days before the disaster warning that using fewer centralizers could result in “severe” gas flow.

Cocales said two other drilling engineers in the BP Houston office, Mark Hafle and Brian Morel, were responsible for designing the well and recommended that fewer safety devices be used.

Both Hafle and Morel refused to testify this week, invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.

The panel is expected to convene again in October and plans to release its findings by the end of January.

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