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Halliburton knew well cement did not meet standards

"A presidential commission says BP and Halliburton were aware that cement used at the well had failed lab tests and was not up to industry standards. They say the companies had the data strongly suggesting that the foam cement was unstable, but used it anyway."

        The CBS Evening News (10/28, lead story, 2:30, Couric) added, "Today a presidential commission said the explosion could have been prevented if cement used to seal that well had held firm. And the panel says BP and its contractor, Halliburton, had been warned the cement could fail." According to CBS, this is "a very serious finding...because it answers what BP and Halliburton knew and when they knew it. This report makes clear these companies saw red flags signaling trouble and ignored them. Five weeks before the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, BP and Halliburton knew something was potentially very wrong. That's the damning allegation from government investigators, who outline a pattern of failed safety tests and non-communication. Specifically on March 8th, Halliburton notified BP the cement mix to seal the well failed a critical test for stability. Investigators say neither acted upon the data. Halliburton and perhaps BP should have considered redesigning the mix. Instead, BP ordered Halliburton to seal the well."

        NBC Nightly News (10/28, lead story, 2:45, Williams) further explained, "In April, seven days before the explosion, Halliburton conducted two more tests using a slightly different mixture. In the first, the cement was found unstable but investigators say Halliburton never told BP. Investigators say Halliburton then changed the testing protocols and got one good test." NBC added, "The Presidential commission asked an outside lab run by Chevron to run its own test on the cement. ... Chevron's letter to the Presidential commission details nine separate tests. Chevron reports, 'We were unable to generate stable foam with any of the tests.'"

        In his report to the commissioners of the President's panel, the New York Times (10/29, A1, Broder) reports, Fred H. Bartlit Jr., the panel's lead investigator, wrote, "There is no indication that Halliburton highlighted to BP the significance of the foam stability data or that BP personnel raised any questions about it." And while Bartlit "did not specifically identify the cement failure as the sole or even primary cause of the blowout, he made clear in his letter that if the cement had done its job and kept the highly pressurized oil and gas out of the well bore, there would have been no accident."

        According to the AP (10/29, Cappiello), "BP, as part of its internal investigation, also conducted independent tests that showed the cement mix was flawed, but its analysis was criticized by Halliburton, which said it was not the correct formula. BP's report also mentioned a cement test Halliburton performed in mid-April, but it appears BP obtained the results after the accident and considered its methods flawed." BP said "it would not have a comment on the panel's conclusions Thursday."

        As of late Thursday night, the Washington Post (10/29, A1, Mufson) reports, Halliburton issued a statement "disputing the commission staff's letter, calling the February tests 'preliminary' and saying that 'final well conditions were not known at that time.' The company asserted that it informed BP about the later tests. It called one of those 'irrelevant' and said that some adjustments were made after the final test."

        The Wall Street Journal (10/29, A1, Casselman, Hughes) points out that the panel's findings bring scrutiny back to Halliburton, which, for the most part, has avoided much of the spotlight and criticism in the aftermath of the disaster.

        AFP (10/28), McClatchy (10/29, Seibel), the Financial Times (10/29, A1, Kirchgaessner, Pfeifer, McNulty), Politico (10/29, Samuelsohn), The Hill (10/29, Goode), the New York Daily News (10/29, Hartenstein), and (10/28, Cohen) are among the other outlets reporting this story.

        Markey reacts to findings. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (10/29, Hammer) reports Rep. Ed Markey, "who has been seeking subpoena power for the Oil Spill Commission, saw it as a watershed finding." Said Markey, "The fact that BP and Halliburton knew this cement job could fail only solidifies their liability and responsibility for this disaster," adding, "This is like building a car when you know the brakes could fail, but you sell the cars anyway." The article points out that "despite not having the subpoena powers used by other investigative bodies, Bartlit managed to convince Halliburton to turn over the exact recipe for the cement mixture, something it hadn't been willing to share previously." Oil Spill Commission co-chairman William Reilly said Bartlit "was able to get information without subpoenas by reminding the companies that anything they didn't provide willingly would be flagged for the Justice Department's sprawling civil and criminal investigation."

        Report puts Halliburton back in unfavorable spotlight. In a separate story, the New York Times (10/29, A20, Meier, Krauss) reports Halliburton in recent years "has found itself under scrutiny over allegations that it performed shoddy, overpriced work for the United States military in Iraq, bribed Nigerian officials to win energy contracts and did brisk business with Iran at time when it faced sanctions." Now, several experts said "the report by the staff of the commission investigating the accident could have legal and business consequences for Halliburton." Lawyers suing BP, Halliburton and other companies on behalf of workers killed or injured in the disaster have already "seized on the report, arguing that it would expand Halliburton's potential liability." Paul Sterbcow, a plaintiffs' lawyer in New Orleans, said in a statement, "The report makes clear for all to see that, by rushing the cement job, BP and Halliburton put their corporate profits ahead of worker safety."

        According to legal experts, the Los Angeles Times (10/29, Fausset, Banerjee) reports, "the information could bolster plaintiffs' cases in the multitude of spill-related lawsuits by helping to show that BP acted with gross negligence leading up to the spill. This could, among other issues, greatly increase the multibillion-dollar penalties BP might have to pay for violation of the Clean Water Act."

        NYTimes urges Congress to respond with clear legislation. In an editorial, the New York Times (10/29, A30) says, "This investigation is far from over. What we know so far is deeply unsettling and good reason for the commission to keep probing. This is also one more reminder of why the Senate must rouse itself and pass an oil spill bill tightly regulating the drilling industry." The Times adds, "We have already seen how the oil industry can game the rules, and the cost. That is why Congress needs to write them clearly and firmly into law."