The legal situation over the Deepwater Horizon explosion appears to be getting more serious as accounts emerged that there was a serious argument between Transocean and BP officials shortly before the blast — with references to the possible use of the blowout preventer. One BP official, Robert Kaluza, has become the first known person associated with the blast to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to refuse to answer questions.
According to witnesses, there was a fierce disagreement at an 11 a.m. meeting on April 20 — less than 11 hours before the blast. Transocean’s rig operator Jimmy W. Harrell reportedly strongly objected to an order by BP’s top representative over how to start removing heavy drilling fluid and replacing it with lighter seawater from a riser pipe connected to the well head. There are allegations that the crew may have started the process without taking necessary precautionary steps.
Witnesses said that Harrell was so upset that, as he walked away, he complained “I guess that is what we have those pinchers for” — a reference to the now famous blowout preventer that is supposed to sever the main pipe in case of a disaster.
This is the type of meeting that races the heart of any plaintiffs’ lawyer. It is not just likely to be the focus of attorneys representing the families of dead workers but of company lawyers training to shift blame between the three main companies, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. It may also indicate that likely tort actions will pursue a combination of negligent acts by these companies — through criminal prosecution clearly remains the most prominent concern for officials like Kaluza.
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