The Work

October 29, 2010 10:48 AM

Bartlit BP Spill Bombshell: Halliburton Knew Well Cement Was Flawed

Posted by D.M. Levine

UPDATE: Late Thursday night, Halliburton released a six-page response to the National Oil Commission's findings. You can read the full release here.

The Fred Bartlit-led legal team investigating the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Thursday released a bombshell finding: that despite multiple test results showing that a cement-foam mixture meant to seal the bottom of the well was unstable, Halliburton and BP used the flawed material anyway.

In a letter addressed to the National Oil Spill Commission, Bartlit and his deputies revealed for the first time that Halliburton knew about problems with the cement slurry far in advance of the explosion that caused last summer's massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Commission sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the failure of the cement was a primary cause of the disaster. (Download Bartlit letter PDF)

"We have known for some time that the cement the bottom of the Macondo well must have failed in some manner," Bartlit writes in the letter. "Halliburton has stated publicly that it tested the Macondo cement before pumping it on April 19th and 20th, and that its tests indicated the cement would be stable."

But according to Bartlit, three of the four tests conducted by Halliburton in the weeks leading up to the oil rig explosion showed that the slurry was "unstable." One of those tests, according to Bartlit's letter, was conducted "on or about April 13th"--just a week before the explosion that killed 11 rig workers and sent some 5 billion gallons of oil shooting into the Gulf of Mexico.

Reached for comment, Cathy Mann, a Halliburton spokesperson said "we continue to review today’s report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and will publish a response later today."

In addition, according to the Bartlitt letter, he and his fellow investigators could only confirm that Halliburton informed BP of two of the four tests it had conducted on the cement mixture. In one instance, Halliburton notified BP in a March 8 e-mail about the results of the failed test, though Bartlit's letter points out that Halliburton did not specifically highlight the test failure.

"There is no indication that Halliburton highlighted to BP the significance of the foam stability data or that BP personnel raised any questions about it," Bartlit writes.

It's unclear, commission sources say, whether Halliburton ever shared with BP the results of the lone test that showed the slurry mix to be stable prior to the material being pumped into the well. In fact, the commission hasn't uncovered any evidence to suggest that Halliburton notified BP about the final "stable" cement test result until April 26th, six days after the rig explosion. And, according to commission sources, it is even unclear whether Halliburton itself had those final test results back by the time the company started pouring cement into the well on April 19.

Bartlit's letter notes that the commission conducted its own independent tests at Chevron Corporation on cement materials similar--but not identical--to the materials used in the Deepwater rig's Macondo oil well.

Chevron scientists were unable, according to Bartlit, to produce stable cement foam from those replicated tests. After the Chevron-led tests, Bartlit and his colleagues asked Halliburton to turn over information about whatever tests it had conducted prior to the well explosion. Halliburton complied with that request.

The revelation about the instability of the cement slurry--and Halliburton's prior knowledge of it--is among the most significant so far as various investigations delve into what caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Bartlit--name partner in Chicago-based litigation boutique Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar & Scott--was tapped by the commission last summer to lead its Deepwater probe. He and his team are scheduled to present additional findings from their inquiry to this point during a two-day session in Washington, D.C., on November 8 and 9.




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