BP failed to implement a new safety plan on the Deepwater Horizon rig even though it realised a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was its greatest danger, a court has been told.
University engineering professor Robert Bea, an expert for people and businesses suing the company, was the first witness at a civil trial to determine how much more BP and other companies should pay for the spill. He said BP did not implement a two-year-old safety management programme on the rig that exploded in the Gulf in 2010.
"It's a classic failure of management and leadership in BP," said Prof. Bea, a former BP consultant who also investigated the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and New Orleans levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The company has said its "Operating Management System" was designed to drive a rigorous and systematic approach to safety and risk management. Yet it was only implemented at one of the seven rigs the company owned or leased in the Gulf.
Prof. Bea said it was "tragic" and "egregious" that BP did not apply its own safety programme to the Deepwater Horizon rig before the Macondo well blowout triggered the explosion that killed 11 workers and spawned the massive spill. Transocean owned the rig; BP leased it.
He said BP's "culture of every dollar counts" was reflected in a May 2009 email sent by BP well team leader John Guide: "The DW Horizon embraced every dollar matters since I arrived 18 months ago," Mr Guide wrote. "We have saved BP millions and no one had to tell us."
In a report prepared for the trial, Prof. Bea concluded that BP's "process safety failures" were a cause of the blowout.
"Financially, BP had the resources to effectively put into place a process safety system that could have prevented the Macondo disaster," he said.
He said he had warned BP management several years before the Gulf rig explosion that "culture is key" to the company's ability to operate safely. He said the company did not heed his warnings.
"You still don't get it," he recalled telling BP officials in 2007. "You have not implemented any recommendations. Process safety is deadly serious, and you've turned it into a travelling roadshow." His evidence opened the second day of a civil trial in New Orleans that could result in BP and its partners being forced to pay billions of dollars more in damages.