The CEO of BP is trying to get out in front of potential lawsuits by casting the blame for the Gulf oil spill squarely on the owner of the rig: Transocean. But in doing so in media interviews Monday, BP’s Tony Hayward appears to have also gotten out in front of the known facts.
“It wasn’t our accident,” he told the Today Show on Monday. Pressed by anchor Meredith Vieira, Hayward claimed: “the drilling rig was a Transocean drilling rig. It was their rig and their equipment that failed, run by their people, their processes.”
But oil industry experts tell TPMmuckraker that BP, as the lease operator on the Deepwater Horizon rig, most likely did have a role in decision-making aboard the drilling vessel. And six BP employees were on the rig when it exploded April 20.
Eleven workers died in the accident out of a total crew of 126 on the vessel. The crew was made up of not only Transocean and BP workers, but also subcontractors. The cause of the explosion that led to the spill is still unknown.
But, says Bob Bea, a Berkeley engineering professor and industry vet who studies oil rigs, Hayward’s claim that Deepwater Horizon was run exclusively by Transocean’s people and processes defies belief.
“British Petroleum has operating procedures protocol that the rig operator and their subcontractors must follow,” Bea says. “The crew actually has several sets of procedures, operating manuals if you will, one from the federal government, one from the people who have chartered the rig, and another set from Transocean.”
“I have a suspicion that [Hayward’s] statement is meant to provide a boundary for liability,” Bea says.
Hayward used an identical formulation distancing BP from the accident in other media appearances, the Los Angeles Times reports. “It was their rig and their equipment that failed, run by their people with their processes,” the Times quotes him as saying.
Ted Bourgoyne, professor emeritus in petroleum engineering at Louisiana State University, tells TPMmuckraker that BP would typically have an “operator’s representative” on the rig, “who basically has to go through the procedures the company wants to follow, and has to work with the rig crew.”
Bourgoyne says there is also a daily safety meeting, which includes the operator’s rep, in which “everyone will go through the procedure and go through any questions and make sure everyone understands what their role is and what they’re supposed to do” that day.
Asked to elaborate on Hayward’s comments, BP spokeswoman Michele Davis gave TPMmuckraker this statement: “BP is responsible for cleaning up the spill, and is taking that responsibility very seriously. The cause of the leak is something for a later investigation.”
Here’s the video of Hayward’s NBC appearance Monday, with transcript below.
Anchor: Over the weekend President Obama said that he holds BP accountable for this spill and any damage that results from it. Does the buck stop at your desk?
Hayward: It wasn’t our accident, but we are absolutely responsible for the oil, for cleaning it up, and that’s what we intend to do,”
Anchor: How can it not be your accident, sir?
Hayward: Well, the drilling rig was a Transocean drilling rig. It was their rig and their equipment that failed. Run by their people, their processes.