A surviving crew member of Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf of Mexico oil rig that caught fire and sank following a 2010 well blowout that fouled the Gulf Coast, gave frightening testimony today in the civil trial against oil giant BP and its contractors. Randy Ezell, the senior toolpusher aboard the rig at the time of the accident, recalled fighting for his life and the lives of his friends after a series of explosions that ultimately claimed the lives of 11 people.
“I don’t really like to think about it very much,” Ezell said when questions turned to the events of April 20, 2010, calling it “painful” to rehash the accident.
After he was relieved from his shift by toolpusher Jason Anderson, Ezell retired to his bunk to call his wife and enjoy his brand new flat screen TV, he said. But just as he thought he was drifting off to sleep, he received a frantic call from assistant driller Stephen Curtis.
Curtis said, “We have a problem; we have mud flowing into the crown,” which Ezell knew was a sign the rig crew was losing control of the well and a blowout could be imminent. As Ezell hurried to put on his boots and coveralls, the first blast blew him 20 feet through the bunkhouse and left him buried in debris.
Ezell was trapped in “total darkness” and within moments “the entire area was filled with smoke.” He struggled to rise out of the rubble but failed twice to get on his feet.
“I said, ‘If you don’t get up, you’re going to lay here and die,’” Ezell testified, before finally escaping the wreckage on a third, adrenaline-fueled attempt.
As he worked his way toward the rig floor through a cloud of methane gas, he found crew member Wymann Wheeler and a Transocean executive trapped in a hallway. Other crew members led the Transocean executive to safety while Ezell stayed with Wheeler, who was too injured to walk.
Wheeler told Ezell to leave him and save himself, but Ezell remained at his side until others arrived to help carry him out, noting “it was the right thing to do.”
Ezell said he was among the last to leave the rig alive and escape in a life raft. “One of the most uncomfortable things,” he recalled, was that the survivors “sat there and watched everybody perish and the rig burn.”
“You can never take that away.”
BP Gets a Break
The fifth day of testimony provided a bit of breathing room for BP. Previous witnesses have included experts who blamed the company for critical errors and BP executives who faced hours of tough questions about whether their corporate culture valued profits more than safety. Ezell, however, testified that he never felt pressure from BP or Transocean to rush a job.
Ezell, who still works for Transocean, also denied that his employer promoted a “run it, break it, fix it” philosophy regarding equipment maintenance. Plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that critical equipment like the rig’s blowout preventer were in disrepair at the time of the accident.
But Ezell also testified that there was a “disconnect” between offshore and onshore workers, and that rig workers often “wished they had more input” when it came to policies and procedures. He said it may be difficult for onshore executives to understand the demands of offshore conditions because “they don’t live the rig life.”
Still Trusts Crew
Ezell heaped praise upon his fellow crew members, particularly Anderson, who was killed in the blast. On the rig floor, Anderson offered a theory called the “bladder effect” that he said could explain the troubling pressure test results collected just before the blowout, but experts have testified that the bladder effect is not a real phenomenon.
“All I know is the guys were doing everything within their power to keep the well under control,” Ezell said. “Jason apparently misinterpreted what he’d seen.”
“I still have the same confidence in Jason as I had before the accident. The training definitely was there.”
What do you think of the BP trial testimony so far?
Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard.