Ex-BP supervisor testifies colleague didn’t pass on info

NEW ORLEANS – The Deepwater Horizon supervisor who pleaded guilty to a pollution charge in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill says the colleague now fighting that charge never gave him information that prosecutors say was critical.

Donald Vidrine testified Thursday, the second day of Robert Kaluza’s trial, about a test meant to show whether two cement plugs, other structures and drilling mud below the ocean floor could stand up to the pressure of oil and gas farther down.

The cement plugs were part of preparation for the drilling rig to leave the well, making way for a production platform.

Vidrine was BP PLC’s night supervisor on the rig; Kaluza was the day supervisor.

Answering “no” to questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Saulino, Vidrine said Kaluza never told him several specific pieces of information about the test.

Then she asked, if he assumed that everything she’d asked about was true, “did you ever get a good test on the Horizon that night?”

“Not to my knowledge, no,” Vidrine replied.

In a similar exchange, Vidrine also said Kaluza never said he was worried that the “negative test” might have failed or have been incomplete.

For the test in question, water is pumped into the well to displace some of the heavy synthetic “drilling mud” that keeps oil and natural gas from flowing up into the well. Earlier witnesses explained that measurements of either pressure or flow from any one of several pipes can be used to check the results.

Witnesses said the first test was on the drill pipe through which drills can be run and fluids pumped into the well. Vidrine said Kaluza told him that 65 42-gallon barrels of water had to be bled off to even out the pressure. That wasn’t typical, he said, but he was told “they had bled it out to zero” pressure, so the test was deemed successful.

However, an onshore engineer had specified a test on one of the other pipes, so he supervised that test during his own shift and found no problem, he said.

“Did Mr. Kaluza ever tell you they were watching pressure on the drill pipe and not flow?” Saulino asked. “Did Mr. Kaluza ever tell you they never got zero pressure for 30 minutes?” No, Vidrine said each time.

During cross-examination, defence attorney David Gerger drew up a list of 10 reasons Vidrine was confident in the results of the second test.

Saulino then asked if his decision might have been affected if he’d known that the drill pipe test was bad. “Yeah, it might have,” Vidrine said.

The next witness, Lee Lambert, was a supervisor in training at the time. He testified that the flow on the drill line caused a great deal of discussion among Kaluza and other supervisors on duty during Kaluza’s shift.

The rig exploded in flames late April 20, 2010. The accident started a huge oil spill that caused economic and ecological devastation along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Vidrine pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour charge on which Kaluza is being tried: violating the Clean Water Act.

Saulino said in an opening statement Wednesday that there were several reasons the well blew, but Kaluza was partly responsible.

Defence attorney Shaun Clarke said Kaluza stopped work on the well before his shift ended and was off duty, leaving the decision about what happened next to Vidrine.