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Witness: BP took ‘shortcuts’ before well blowout

COVINGTON, La. (AP) Senior managers complained oil giant BP was “taking shortcuts” by replacing heavy drilling fluid with saltwater in the well that blew out, triggering the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to witness statements obtained by The Associated Press.

Truitt Crawford, a roustabout for drilling rig owner Transocean LTD, told Coast Guard investigators about the complaints. The seawater, which would have provided less weight to contain surging pressure from the ocean depths, was being used to prepare for dropping a final blob of cement into the well.

“I overheard upper management talking saying that BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blew out,” Crawford said in his statement.

A spokesman for BP, which was leasing the rig Deepwater Horizon when it exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, declined to comment.

BP conducted tests Wednesday in preparation for its latest bid to plug the leaking well by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud and cement. BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said on NBC’s “Today” show that he would decide Wednesday morning whether to allow crews to try the procedure called a top kill.

Meanwhile, the statements from workers ahead of a hearing in New Orleans on Wednesday and a congressional memo about a BP internal investigation of the blast indicated warning signs were ignored. Tests less than an hour before the well blew out found a buildup of pressure that was an “indicator of a very large abnormality,” BP’s investigator said, according to the congressional memo.

Still, the rig team was “satisfied” that another test was successful and resumed adding the seawater, said the memo by U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak to members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is investigating what went wrong.

There were other signs of problems, including an unexpected loss of fluid from a pipe known as a riser five hours before the explosion, which the memo said could have indicated a leak in the blowout preventer, a huge piece of equipment that should have shut down the well in case of an emergency. BP has cited its failure as a contributor to the blast.

Among the red flags, the panel said, were several equipment readings suggesting gas was bubbling into the well, a potential sign of an impending blowout. Investigators also noted “other events in the 24 hours before the explosion that require further inquiry,” including the critical decision to replace heavy mud in the pipe rising from the seabed with seawater, possibly increasing the risk of an explosion.

Frustration is growing with BP and the federal government as several efforts to stop the leak have failed. At least 7 million gallons (26.5 million liters) of crude have spilled into the sea, fouling Louisiana’s marshes and coating birds and other wildlife.

President Obama prepared to head to the Gulf on Friday to review efforts to halt the oil that scientists said seems to be growing significantly darker, from what they can see in an underwater video. It suggests that heavier, more-polluting oil is spewing out.

Ahead of his trip, Obama planned to address an Interior Department review of offshore drilling that is expected to recommend tougher safety protocols and inspections for the industry, according to an administration official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the public release Thursday of the findings of a 30-day review Obama ordered after the spill.


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