DAVID GREENE, host:
We're also learning more about the events that led up to oil rig explosion more than a month ago. The chief mechanic on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig has told federal investigators there was a dispute among managers on the rig hours before that explosion. The disagreement involved employees of Transocean, the company that operated the rig, and a manager from BP, the company that leased it. This joint investigation by the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service has raised questions about whether BP was rushing to move on to another well.
NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER: Chief mechanic Douglas Brown told federal investigators meeting outside New Orleans yesterday that he attended a daily meeting of rig managers the day of the explosion. He said he didn't follow all the details that closely, but he did notice one thing.
Mr. DOUGLAS BROWN (Chief Mechanic, Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig): I recall a skirmish taking place between the company man, the OIM, and the tool pusher and driller concerning the events of the day. The driller was outlining what was going to be taking place, whereupon the company man stood up and said, no, we have some changes to that.
FESSLER: The company man was the BP representative. The others were Transocean employees. The dispute involved removing drilling mud from the drill pipe prior to shutting down the well and the impact that might have on allowing gas to seep out.
Brown said the Transocean employees eventually, but reluctantly, agreed to do what the BP official wanted. He told investigators he was in the engine room later that night when he heard gas alarms go off and the engines began to accelerate. Then came the first of two large explosions.
Brown was asked by Jason Mathews of the Minerals Management Service if there wasn't a mechanism that would automatically shut down the engines if they went too fast. Brown said that there was.
Mr. JASON MATHEWS (Minerals Management Service): Did those safety devices work?
Mr. BROWN: I do not think so, no.
Mr. MATHEWS: Is there any type of safety device on an air-intake system that would prevent gas to flow into the engine control room (unintelligible)?
Mr. BROWN: Yes.
Mr. MATHEWS: In your opinion, did those function properly?
Mr. BROWN: No.
FESSLER: Mathews later noted that BP had been scheduled to start using the Deepwater Horizon to drill a different well a month-and-a-half earlier, and that they were behind schedule. He said this was costing BP more than a half-million dollars a day in leasing fees.
He asked Steve Tink, a top health and safety official with BP, how the company balanced rig efficiency and safety when it had to pay such large amounts.
Mr. STEVE TINK (Health and Safety Official, BP): The safest operations are the most efficient operations, so we think they go hand in hand. So if you have a safe operation, you have an efficient operation, that's the fundamental philosophy.
FESSLER: The hearings continue today with more testimony from Transocean employees. Investigators were expected to hear from two BP officials today, but neither will appear. One cited illness. The other cited his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Pam Fessler, NPR News, New Orleans.