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BP executive testifies about oil well blowout

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — A high-ranking BP executive testified on Tuesday that the London-based oil giant and its contractors share the responsibility for preventing blowouts such as the one that killed 11 workers and spawned the nation's worst offshore oil spill in 2010.

Lamar McKay, who was president of BP America at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is the first BP executive to testify at a federal trial designed to identify the causes of BP's Macondo well blowout and assign percentages of blame to the companies involved.

Rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton also are defendants at the trial, which began Monday.

A plaintiffs' attorney pressed McKay to agree with him that BP bore ultimate responsibility for the blowout, but McKay insisted that managing the hazards of deepwater drilling is a “team effort.”

“I think that's a shared responsibility, to manage the safety and the risk,” said McKay, now chief executive of BP's Upstream unit. “Sometimes contractors manage that risk. Sometimes we do. Most of the time, it's a team effort.”

McKay also defended the company's internal probe of the spill, which outlined a series of mistakes by rig workers and faulted decisions by other companies but didn't assign any blame to BP's upper-level management.

“I think it was a substantial investigation,” McKay said.

McKay said the rig explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a “tragic accident” resulting from a “risk that was identified.”

This isn't the first time McKay has testified under oath about the spill. He appeared before Congress less than a month after the deadly rig explosion.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is hearing the case without a jury. Barring a settlement, Barbier will decide how much more money BP and other companies owe for their roles in the disaster.

McKay's testimony followed that of an expert witness for people and businesses suing the company. University of California-Berkeley engineering professor Robert Bea testified that BP PLC didn't implement a 2-year-old safety management program on the rig that exploded in the Gulf on April 20, 2010.

“It's a classic failure of management and leadership in BP,” said Bea, a former BP consultant who also investigated the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and New Orleans levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

BP has said its “Operating Management System” was designed to drive a rigorous and systematic approach to safety and risk management.

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