Partner in damaged oil well slams BP for 'reckless' actions -- and inaction

As BP works to control the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, local wildlife struggle for survival.
By Joel Achenbach and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010

BP's three-front oil spill war -- on the seafloor, on the Gulf Coast and in Congress -- turned into a four-front battle Friday when its main partner in the damaged exploration well blamed the oil giant's "reckless decisions and actions" for causing a disaster that was "preventable."

It was the first time since the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that Anadarko Petroleum had given its view of the accident, and its chief executive, Jim Hackett, did not mince words. In a statement, Hackett said he was "shocked" by information that has emerged from investigations of the accident. He said it "indicates BP operated unsafely and failed to monitor and react to several critical warning signs during the drilling of the Macondo well."

Anadarko's statement contrasted with the testimony of BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, who told a congressional committee Thursday that it was too soon to reach conclusions about the disaster's causes.

Hackett's comments have huge financial implications. As a 25 percent partner in the well, Anadarko would ordinarily be responsible for a quarter of all cleanup and damage costs. But, Hackett said, "BP's behavior and actions likely represent gross negligence or willful misconduct and thus affect the obligations of the parties under the operating agreement." He said Anadarko would donate to charity and civic groups any proceeds it receives from the sale of oil collected during the cleanup.

BP said it "strongly disagrees" with Hackett's allegations, but Hayward said in a statement that they "will neither distract the company's focus on stopping the leak nor alter our commitment to restore" the Gulf Coast. BP's chief executive added that "other parties besides BP may be responsible for costs and liabilities arising from the oil spill, and we expect those parties to live up to their obligations." But regardless of how liabilities are allocated, he said, BP would still "pay all legitimate claims."

For the BP bosses in the tailored suits, it was a bitter end to a grueling, embarrassing week, one in which they were scolded and hectored from the White House to the Capitol and wound up with a $20 billion bill for the oil spill. And it overshadowed indications that, far from the spotlight, BP engineers had had a pretty good week by the standards of this relentlessly grim calamity.

They made significant progress on the gulf surface, at the sea bottom and in the rock below the gulf floor. They can now imagine, and discuss with some plausibility, an end to the gushing-geyser phase of the crisis.

Although oil and gas continue to escape the well and pollute the gulf, more of it is being captured than just a few days ago. Engineers have put in place a new oil-containment system, a supplement to the existing cap on the severed pipe. On Friday, BP announced that during the previous day, the two methods captured 25,290 barrels (1.06 million gallons) of oil. That's a 10,000-barrel jump from the containment rate of earlier in the week.

Simultaneously, the first of two relief wells has advanced nearly 11,000 feet below the floor of the gulf and is homing in on the well that has been out of control since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. That effort, officials said, is ahead of schedule.

"Until we collect every drop of oil, we won't be satisfied, but within that context, the teams have made very good progress," BP engineer Kent Wells said Friday.

The public may need more persuasion. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Friday showed that 48 percent of respondents think that the situation is getting worse and 14 percent think it is getting better. Half believe that the gulf will never fully recover, and 53 percent favor criminal charges against BP employees and executives.

Hayward, the most controversial figure in the BP leadership, will no longer be in charge of the company's gulf response, board chairman of Carl-Henric Svanberg said in an interview with Sky TV on Friday. That move had been announced two weeks ago in a conference call with investors. But Svanberg's comment received widespread publicity and may signal a diminished public role for Hayward, who did not help his image with his reticent, talking-point-laden testimony Thursday during marathon House hearings. Managing Director Bob Dudley will take over BP's daily operations in the gulf, Svanberg said.

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