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Gulf oil spill: Halliburton projected major gas leak on doomed BP well [Updated]

July 20, 2010 |  3:33 pm

Two days before the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, Halliburton projected there would be a severe natural gas leak at the bottom of the well under a design being considered at the time, according to a report made public Tuesday.

The report by Halliburton, the company contracted by BP to close the well with a cement plug to save it for future production, alerted BP officials on April 18 that “this well is considered to have a severe gas flow problem.” Three days earlier, a similar report had indicated the well would have a minor gas-flow problem.

[For the record added at 3:30 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly said the Halliburton report revealed there was a severe natural gas leak found at the bottom of the well. The Halliburton reports on April 15 and April 18 were computerized projections of what could occur depending on the well designs being considered on those days. The final well design was implemented on April 20, the day the well was sealed by Halliburton.]

The reports were introduced by investigators at a hearing in suburban New Orleans to Ronald Sepulvado, a BP well-site leader who had been one of BP’s top officials aboard the Deepwater Horizon until he left four days before the disaster to attend training in Louisiana.

Sepulvado said he saw the first report, dated April 15, the day before he left the rig, which indicated the minor gas flow problem. He said he didn’t see the second report because he wasn’t checking e-mails for four to five days after he left the rig. An e-mail dated April 18 containing the strongly worded warning indicated that Sepulvado, as well as Donald Vidrine, BP’s other top official aboard the Deepwater Horizon, were among the people who had received Halliburton’s report.

Sepulvado was asked whether he looked at these reports carefully. He acknowledged that he didn’t read every line of every report.

“Sometimes I did, sometimes it’s not,” Sepulvado said. “I don’t read every line on that report because it’s 20 to 30 pages long.”

Patrick Fanning, an attorney for Jimmy Harrell, the rig’s offshore installation manager and employee of rig owner Transocean, recalled Harrell’s previous testimony that he did not receive the report warning of a possible severe gas leak and “sure would have liked to have known as well.”

“How does he find it out if Halliburton tells BP, and BP doesn’t share?” Fanning asked.

Sepulvado said that Harrell should have been informed about the problem.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Kenner, La.