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Gulf oil spill: Well design was sound, BP engineer testifies

May 28, 2010 |  7:01 pm

Mark Hafle, a BP drilling engineer who designed the well casings and cement seals, was questioned repeatedly Friday about whether those elements led to the disaster that sent the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to the seafloor, killed 11 men and began the nation's worst oil spill.

“I came up with the basic design but had it validated by our engineering and technology group,” he told a Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service panel in Kenner, La. "We worked with Halliburton to design it. They have a piece of software, and they run the model."

Halliburton was contracted by BP for the cementing work.

Asked whether he was aware of any problem while drilling the well, Hafle said, "Every test was satisfactory when they were drilling this well…to my knowledge."

When asked about a possible influx of hydrocarbons, or about gas incursions, he told investigators, "I'm not sure."

"All indications were we had an adequate cement job," Hafle said at one point. But a member of the panel interrupted: "This is not entirely correct in my opinion. There were 11 people killed and you still think the cement job was successful?"

Hafle said Halliburton was informed about a "severe" loss of drilling fluid, or mud, when the drillers reached the production level of the well. "Halliburton was aware," he said. "We lost 3,000 barrels of mud."

Pressed about whether cement had to have failed for gas and oil to flow from the well, Hafle said, "I’m not sure."

"There has to be a failure at some point for this well to flow, correct?" one questioner said.

"Not necessarily," he replied.

"There had to be a failure at some location, correct?"

"Yes, it failed and blew out," Hafle replied.

The questioner pressed: "Give me the different possibilities that would have allowed this well to flow."

"I am not going to speculate," he said.

--Louis Sahagun, reporting from Kenner, La.