Deepwater Horizon disaster hearing canceled after previous day's testimony provides little insight

By David Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010; 2:19 PM

KENNER, LA. -- Tuesday was supposed to be a banner day in the government's hearings into the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Finally, a federal panel investigating the blowout was going to hear from some of the top men who represented oil giant BP on the rig, and from a subsea supervisor who could discuss the infamously ineffective failsafe known as the blowout preventer, or BOP.

Instead, one witness said he was off the rig and out of the loop when pivotal events transpired. Another generally said he didn't know, couldn't recall and was just a trainee too inexperienced to opine.

Two more witnesses stayed away altogether -- one citing medical reasons and the other invoking his Fifth Amendment right.

Following their example, four witnesses declined to appear Wednesday, prompting the board to cancel a day of testimony.

And then there was Ross Skidmore, the subsea supervisor who according to the hearing agenda was to testify on blowout-preventer-related "issues, certification, modifications and compliance."

As it turned out, Skidmore testified that he had nothing to do with the BOP.

He said he set foot on the Deepwater Horizon for the first time about four days before the explosion, and his mission was to accompany the rig to its next drill site. Once there, he would have been involved in receiving equipment as it arrived, and he would have written down a list of equipment that was needed, he said.

"So whether or not there were new annulars on the Deepwater Horizon is beyond your scope?" asked lawyer Steve Gordon, who represents one of the crew members.

"I wouldn't have a clue," Skidmore replied.

The hearings at an airport hotel near New Orleans are being conducted by a joint investigative board of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement -- the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.

The fact that Skidmore appeared unaccompanied by legal counsel might have been a tip-off of sorts that he had little to say. Some of the witnesses with truly sensitive information have been escorted to the hearings by verbal bodyguards quick to intercept unwelcome questions.

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