Image: Daniel Oldfather, Michael Lemoine, Donald Godwin
Patrick Semansky  /  AP
Weatherford cementation service operator Daniel Oldfather, center, reviews a document with Weatherford attorney Michael Lemoine, left, and Halliburton attorney Donald Godwin, right, while being questioned by Godwin at Deepwater Horizon joint investigation hearings held by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Management Regulation and Enforcement in Metairie, La., on Thursday.
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updated 10/7/2010 7:48:17 PM ET 2010-10-07T23:48:17

A technician on Thursday challenged BP's claim about how long it would have taken to install additional numbers of a key device the oil giant had been warned was essential to prevent a severe gas flow problem in its Gulf well that later blew out.

Centralizers make sure the casing is running down the center of the well bore. If the casing is cemented off-center, there is a risk of an imperfect seal that could allow oil and gas to escape.

BP installed only six, against a Halliburton recommendation to install 21.

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One issue in a federal investigative panel's probe of the rig explosion and massive oil spill that followed is whether BP cut corners to reduce costs. The well project was nearly $60 million over budget at the time the centralizer warning was raised.

Four days before the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, a BP well team leader asserted it would take 10 hours to install the additional 15 centralizers. But technician Daniel Oldfather told the joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigative panel it would have taken him only four to eight hours to do the job.

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Oldfather, who works for oilfield services firm Weatherford, flew to the rig on April 16 with the 15 centralizers on board, but a pallet of screws and epoxy was missing. He testified that a BP engineer told him when he arrived that the missing materials would be sent out on a boat and arrive later the same day.

Oldfather said the materials never arrived and that he was told the next day the job had been canceled. He said he was never told why and he never raised any objections over any safety concerns because it was BP's decision to make.

BP drilling engineering team leader Gregory Walz testified later Thursday that he ultimately agreed with the decision to run only six centralizers because he believes the risk of a gas flow problem could be resolved by spacing the existing centralizers out and through the use of foam cement.

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His statement came even though he had earlier sent an e-mail to well team leader John Guide telling him he could easily arrange for the extra 15 centralizers to be delivered to the rig. And, Walz later asked another colleague to do just that.

He testified that even though the extra centralizers were on the rig, they were not the type he envisioned and therefore he was worried about using them. Walz said engineers made a judgment call about "which risk to take on."

There were assertions by lawyers at the hearing that BP was under pressure to finish the plugging of its Macondo well so that the Deepwater Horizon could be used for another well job in the Gulf. But Walz testified that the Macondo well would get done when it was ready and no one was rushing.

Board members referred to performance evaluations of BP employees that seemed to reward them for being able to reduce costs on projects.

However, Guide testified Thursday that money was not a factor when it came to safety.

"It's a business, yes, so there is a consideration of monetary things," Guide told the panel. "But even though you could phrase it that way, safety was always the No. 1 priority. Safety was never compromised in the operation."

The testimony was part of the panel's fifth session of hearings aimed at determining the cause of the explosion and how regulation, safety and oversight can be improved.

The explosion killed 11 workers and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from BP PLC's undersea well. BP owned the well and was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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