Capt. Hung Nguyen, chairman of the joint investigative panel, said that because of their "conduct" on the Deepwater Horizon, the rig's two senior officers, Capt. Curt Kuchta and Installation Manager Jimmy Harrell, are now considered "parties of interest" in the investigation.
The other parties of interest are BP, Transocean and several BP contractors, who have lawyers at the hearings to cross-examine witnesses.
The joint investigation hearings in Kenner have been dotted with vivid retellings of the harrowing and chaotic moments when the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20.
The latest came from Micah Sandell, a crane operator.
Sandell said he first noticed something was wrong when he saw the de-gasser, a goose-neck tube that pointed down toward the rig deck.
"It came out of it so strong, so loud, that it filled up the whole back deck with a gassy smoke," Sandell said. "Then, something exploded. I'm not sure what exploded, but looking at it, I think the tank exploded. That was the first fire."
A second explosion was soon to follow.
"I turned off the AC on my crane," Sandell continued. "I wasn't sure if I should get out or not. Then, the whole back deck exploded and came in on me. I just fell to the ground, put my hands on my head and said, 'No, God, no!' Because I thought that was it."
Sandell said that once he and several roustabouts got to the rig's lifeboats, chaos reigned.
"There was a lot of screaming, hollering, a lot of scared people, including me," Sandell said. "They were trying to get people on boats. It was very unorganized. People were yelling, 'Drop the boat! Drop the boat!' But we didn't have everyone on the boat yet. We couldn't get people to count. People couldn't even count right because they were so scared."
Testimony of driller Micah Burgess
BP decided not to perform a test on the mud at the bottom of the well before starting to place the final cement lining that may have been the source of gas that eventually blew out the well, according to testimony at investigative hearings in Kenner.
Micah Burgess: The top drilling supervisor on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, Offshore Installation Manager Jimmy Harrell, testified Thursday that BP decided to forego a "bottoms-up" test that would have examined the condition of drilling mud sitting in the zone where a casing shoe was about to be placed to protect the well from natural gas or oil pressing in against the hole.
On Saturday, a driller who worked under Harrell, Micah Burgess, was asked if it was standard to perform a bottoms-up test.
"Yes sir, you try to," Burgess said. "Just to make sure you got good clean mud (before starting a cement job). You check for gas, too."
As it turned out, gas got into the well after the crew had finished sealing it laterally with metal casings and cement poured between the casing pipes and the surrounding earth formation. That gas blew out through valves and seals at the ocean floor, up 5,000 feet of riser pipe in the sea and onto the rig, engulfing it in flames, killing 11 workers and starting the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Burgess, who was off-duty and in his living quarters when the explosions rung out, also said that he and his night-side counterpart, Dewey Revette, had the authority to trigger an emergency disconnect system to dislodge the rig from the well in an emergency. But, he said, the standard procedure was to check with another employee, the subsea supervisor, before tripping the ultimate fail-safe shearing devices on the huge stack of valves and pistons known as the blowout preventer.
In the tragedy April 20, Revette was killed, likely by the initial explosion after his and others' attempts to control the well that suddenly kicked with gas. The subsea supervisor, Chris Pleasant, testified Friday that he didn't try to hit the emergency disconnect system until several minutes after the explosions. Pleasant said that as soon as he got to the bridge after the explosions, he encouraged the rig's master, Capt. Curt Kuchta, to disconnect.
"Calm down! We're not EDS'ing," Kuchta told him, Pleasant said.
But 30 seconds later, Pleasant said he did hit the button to trigger the emergency disconnect and shear rams on the blowout preventer. The panel indicated they worked, but in reality, they did not, Pleasant said.
Testimony of motorman Paul Meinhart III
During the explosions April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon, the rig's diesel engines revved up and tripped an automatic power shut-off as gas seeped through ducts into the engine room, according to testimony Saturday in investigative hearings.
Paul Meinhart III testified that emergency generators didn't work after the first explosions rang out, and his subsequent attempts to manually start a backup electrical generator were also unsuccessful.
On Thursday, the rig's chief mate, David Young, testified that with no power, the rig's fire pumps didn't work and attempts to fight the fire were abandoned.
But given the enormity of the explosions from unexpected kicks of gas from the well below, Meinhart was skeptical that any power would have helped fight the fires.
"Due to the fact half the vessel was on fire at the time," he said.
Steve Gordon, a lawyer questioning Meinhart interrupted and continued the thought: "One more fire wouldn't have mattered, right?"
New Orleans Times-Picayune
May 29, 2010