Sunday, January 26, 2014

Courtwatch, BP Edition, Part 2

Courtwatch, BP Edition, Part 1

Part 2:

The main portion of the trial concerns civil liability and Clean Water Act fines, etc.  Ed Crooks of the Financial Times has been covering the trial extensively.  There's also been periodic tweeting/writeups from Mike Schleifenstein and others with the TP.  One TP reporter (Richard Thompson) jumped ship to The Advocate and has headed up their coverage.  

There's been plenty of coverage of the main trial.  Billions of dollars are at stake.  Much hinges on how Barbier rules. Louisiana, for example, is putting most of its hopes of funding coastal restoration on the trial.  

I've attended, off and on, since the first day of the trial.  I've by no means attended nearly as often as the reporters covering the trial.  I usually follow their tweets as much as I can, but they're getting a more complete picture than I can try and portray.  What I do have that few others in the room have is an engineering background; when an expert witness describes how he set up his OLGA model, I'm the only guy in the room whose eyes won't glaze over.  

I'll just add a few insights from the first phase of the trial for now:
* First off, I was shocked at the number of lawyers who were taking advantage of the WiFi to check up on their Facebook pages in the middle of Barbier's courtroom.  I've been told by a friend that those were likely the BP Corporate Counsel who are only attending the trial because they have to.  They're basically around to sign checks and make sure nothing goes too far off the rail.  All of the actual trial litigation is contracted out.  
* Speaking of contracted lawyers, BP decided to recruit their main lawyer on Phase 1 from Bear Bryant's Alabama football team.  Let me tell you, football players make great lawyers.  
No, not really, he made a total mess of the trial.  It was embarrassing how often he was unprepared or late or just plain wrong.  I realize that "whoever wins the most objections" doesn't win a trial and that many objections are brought up knowing they won't be sustained by a judge, but Brock batted below the Mendoza line on objections.  He always seemed to walk around with complete confidence in himself, no matter what, though.  He probably knew how much BP was pumping up his bank account.  Fortunately for BP's shareholders, he was shunted off to the side in the second phase of the trial, but he made a mess of the first phase, in my (non-lawyer) opinion.  
* Dr. Bea testified early in the first phase.  His health is going downhill, but he's still amazing to listen to.  BP attacked him pretty hard at the end of his testimony, but didn't land a single hit (IMO).  
* The most interesting portion of the first phase of the trial was the duel between two expert witnesses: Dr. Bourgoyne and Dr. Alan Huffman.  Dr. Bourgoyne wrote the book on drilling engineering and is Professor Emeritus at LSU in Petroleum Engineering.  Dr. Bourgoyne was BP's expert witness, but the Feds coaxed plenty of testimony out of him highly damaging to BP, IMHO.  Dr. Alan Huffman is a geophysicist and arguably the world's leading expert on pore pressure prediction.  Dr. Huffman was an expert witness for the Feds. What I found extremely interesting was Dr. Huffman and Dr. Bourgoyne went at each other like two bulls in a pasture only big enough for one.  They had multiple rebuttal reports to each other's findings.  Here's one of Dr. Huffman's I found online.  All of the reports are out there if you go searching for them.  It blew me away that you'd have two experts at the top of their field banging away at each other like that.  The thrust of Dr. Huffman's testimony was BP drilled in a reckless manner, even before the failed cement job began.  The thrust of Dr. Bourgoyne's testimony was BP operated with standard industry practice up until the cement job, then there some recklessness occurred (he sort of waffled around on whether he thought it was gross negligence).  He did say  it was the worst job at kick detection he'd seen in his entire life (a good drilling crew will detect a kick in under 6 barrels; on Macondo, over 600 barrels entered the wellbore before any action was taken).  Some of what each said at the time went over my head, but I was actually attending a graduate level petroleum engineering course at the time and would ask the professor in that course for background and could then later put the pieces together better.  I have no opinion in which was more right, but both made great points (neither was all that helpful to BP) and I was honored to have heard both testify.   If you want to listen in person to Dr. Huffman talk about pore pressure prediction and fracture gradient (which was also his primary expertise at the trial), you can go to the Tulane Engineering Forum on April 4th.  When Dr. Huffman and Dr. Bourgoyne were testifying, I had a lot of crappy Subway at my desk, but it was worth it to hear every minute I could.  I learned a lot.
* Judge Barbier's handling of the trial was magnificent in my opinion.  He worked very, very hard to keep all the personalities in line.  This trial could easily have blown up into a giant circus.  He hasn't hesistated to step on toes in order to bring lawyers to heel.  He's also been a marathon runner as far as pushing forward and not taking every little excuse for a recess or an early 2-hour lunch.  His handling of the trial, just from a logistical standpoint, has been masterful.  Furthermore, when he asks witnesses questions, they are short, insightful, and more than once I found him asking a question I wanted asked.  Thus far, he has done just about the best job you could reasonably ask a judge to do.  

I'll try to do an update on the second phase later.  I also hope I've separate my opinion on what occurred vs. what actually occurred well enough.  

Note:  Some minor changes after publishing for clarity.

No comments: