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BP was warned of gas danger, contractor says

Image: Jesse Gagliano
Jesse Gagliano is sworn in during the Deepwater Horizon joint investigation hearings on Tuesday in Houston, Texas.Melissa Phillip / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A contractor to BP testified Tuesday that he warned BP that it risked gas leaks in the Macondo well if it cut back on stabilizers for the pipe going down the hole. The warning, he told the Coast Guard-led inquiry into the disaster, was sent via e-mails to BP engineers, including one who refused to testify on Tuesday.

Jesse Gagliano, a technical advisor for Halliburton, which was contracted to cement the well, testified that two days before the explosion he sent BP a computer model showing severe risk of gas flowing into the cemented well if it used fewer than seven "centralizers" at different depths of the pipe.

"I notified BP of the potential issue," he said, adding that in addition to e-mails he shared his concerns with BP engineers with whom he shared an office.

A BP lawyer who cross-examined Gagliano noted that three days after the explosion — in which gas surged up the drill pipe, causing a fireball — Gagliano wrote a report that never mentioned concerns about the stabilizers.

Earlier Tuesday, BP engineer Brian Morel invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself by answering questions.

House lawmakers in June revealed e-mails from Morel defending the decision to use fewer centralizers. "Hopefully, the pipe stays centralized due to gravity," he wrote, adding that "it's too late to get any more product to the rig."

He also told a BP colleague that the company was likely to make last-minute changes in the well. "We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place," Morel wrote.

The e-mail chain, which included Gagliano, culminated with the following message by another worker: "This has been a crazy well for sure."

The federal commission is holding a fourth round of hearings this week. Tomorrow's testimony is to focus on the history of offshore drilling, regulations and the risks involved.

The only others who have failed to testify are the top two BP officials on the rig when it exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the Gulf spill. Robert Kaluza also invoked the Fifth Amendment, while Don Vidrine has cited illness.

Earlier Tuesday, a worker with BP partner Transocean said a high-ranking Transocean employee indicated a pressure test problem had been resolved hours before BP's Gulf of Mexico well blew out.

Daun Winslow testified that there was confusion among workers in the drill shack who were talking before the explosion about a negative pressure test, a procedure typically done before a well is plugged.

Winslow said he left while the drill team and tool pushers were discussing the pressure test to avoid disturbing them. Jim Harrell, the highest-ranking Transocean person on the rig, later gave him a "thumbs up," indicating it had been resolved, he added.

Transocean owns the rig that exploded April 20.