Judge rules against BP, no oil spill penalty for Halliburton

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has shot down BP’s request to penalize Halliburton for allegedly destroying damaging evidence about the quality of its cement slurry that went into drilling the oil well that blew out last year and caused the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

BP did not prove that it had been “prejudiced” by Halliburton’s actions, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan wrote in a ruling. But Shushan told Halliburton to turn over a computer that ran tests on the cement slurry. The judge ordered a third party to run forensics tests on the computer to see if data Halliburton says was lost can be retrieved.

BP made the allegations against Halliburton Dec. 5 in advance of a trial over blame for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon blast.

The explosion killed 11 workers and led to the release of more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP PLC and its two main contractors on the ill-fated well, Halliburton Corp. and Transocean, Ltd., have been sparring in advance of a trial that starts Feb. 27. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will decide fault for the spill in the first phase of the non-jury trial.

BP accused Halliburton employees of doing an internal investigation and discarding and destroying early test results after the blowout that found problems with the cement slurry. BP said Halliburton’s chief cement mixer for Gulf projects testified in depositions that the slurry seemed “thin” to him but that he chose not to write about his findings to his bosses out of fear he would be misinterpreted.

In defending itself against BP’s allegations over those early tests, Halliburton called the tests “random, informal post-incident testing” and said that their results in no way meant that the slurry used in the Macondo well was “unstable.”

Federal and independent investigations of the disaster have found fault in Halliburton’s cement job because it failed to properly plug the well. Halliburton used a foamy cement slurry.

While denying BP’s request to penalize Halliburton, Shushan told the companies to work quickly to do the forensic computer tests and gave them until Jan. 26 to appeal.

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