A Halliburton employee who survived the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion testified today that he failed to act upon signals that the Macondo well was unstable, but doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.
Joseph Keith was a “mud logger” aboard the rig, tasked with monitoring fluid flow and pressure in the well. He testified that while he took a roughly ten minute break to use the bathroom and smoke a cigarette, monitors at his empty workstation showed a rise in well pressure. He noticed the increase as soon as he returned, but did not report it to supervisors, explaining that he didn’t consider it to be an indicator of a “kick” — a sudden flow of natural gas that could cause a deadly blowout. Within minutes, the rig would be rocked by explosions.
Keith testified that he was just one “set of eyes” assigned to monitor well conditions at the time, telling plaintiffs’ attorney John de Gravelles, “I’ve been a mud logger for 19 and a half years. I’ve never missed a kick.”
“Well, you missed this one, Mr. Keith, didn’t you, sir?” de Gravelles asked.
“I’ve never seen a standpipe pressure increase with a kick,” Keith answered.
“Answer my question, sir. You missed this kick, did you not?”
“A lot of people missed the kick, sir.”
“You and a lot of other people, correct?”
‘Never Been Like This Before’
Keith testified that while rig workers were pumping heavy drilling mud out of the well and replacing it with seawater just prior to the blowout, the rest of the rig was buzzing with activity. Cranes were in operation, fluid tanks were being cleaned and smaller vessels were coming and going. Keith said it was unusual for any other activities to be going on during the mud displacement process because it was a safety-critical activity.
“It’s never been like this before,” he said, noting it was the first time he’d seen such a situation in his 18-year offshore drilling career.
Yet Keith said that the distractions never prevented him from properly monitoring well conditions.
“I was able to perform my job fully and capably,” he said.
Escaping an Inferno
Minutes after the increased pressure readings, Keith “started hearing like it was rain or something” on the roof of the mud logger’s shack. But it wasn’t rain; it was drilling mud. Seconds later, Keith smelled gas. He donned his hard hat.
“As I was getting out of the chair, my breakers in the back were arcing,” he said. “My roof mount air conditioners, they had fluid coming in through the vents.”
Keith opened the door to get away from the arcing electronics and saw fire and several inches of fluid on the rig floor. He shut the door.
“I’m like, how the heck am I going to get out of here?”
A few minutes later, he began carefully working his way down an exterior staircase.
“That’s when I found Dale, the crane operator, face down,” Keith testified, fighting back tears.
“I just checked for a pulse on his head and on his wrist, and at the same time I was hollering, ‘Man down, man down!’”
Aaron Dale Burkeen, Keith’s friend, died on the rig.
“We always talked about fishing and stuff. One of the main things we discussed was they had just switched [work schedules], and it just so happened that we would be able to go fishing together. Me and him talked about the next time that me and my wife went to Wildwood Resort at Toledo Bend, we’d give them a call and meet up and go.”
Asked to look back on that night, Keith said, “I’m sorry that it happened. I wish it would have never happened and everybody would still be working on the Horizon.”
“From a work perspective, do you think you did anything wrong?” de Gravelles asked. Keith said no.
“Is there anything you wished you had been able to do?”
“No. I just wish this would have never happened.”
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Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard.
Tagged as: BP, Deepwater Horizon, Halliburton, Transocean