Feds eye Halliburton as investigations of Gulf oil disaster move forward

With federal investigations into the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon underway, more and more attention is being shifted to Halliburton, the oil-services corporation hired by British Petroleum (BP) to cement the wellhead from which hundreds of thousands of crude oil are spouting every day.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Halliburton workers had completed filling the gap between the pipe and the sides of the drill hole with cement and had started plugging the well temporarily when a blowout explosion likely occurred. Investigators haven’t determined whether Halliburton completed the cementing when the blast occurred.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this process “is supposed to prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor. Cement, pumped down the well from the drilling rig, is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned or when drilling has finished but production hasn’t begun.”

“Regulators have previously identified problems in the cementing process as a leading cause of well blowouts, in which oil and natural gas surge out of a well with explosive force,” the Wall Street Journal reported, adding that the cement can fail to set properly and crack, allowing highly combustible gasses to escape, which appears to have happened on the Deepwater Horizon.

A defective cement plug at the bottom of the well could have been another cause of the explosion.

Natalie Roshto, whose husband Shane is among the 11 missing workers, alleges in a lawsuit that Halliburton “prior to the explosion, was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap and, upon information and belief, improperly and negligently performed these duties, which was a cause of the explosion.”

The Wall Street Journal report caught the attention of Representative Henry Waxman (D-Cal), who sent a letter to Halliburton Friday requesting the company to prepare for a House briefing on May 5.

Waxman chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has been investigating Toyota’s handling of defects linked to sudden unintended acceleration in its cars.

Waxman also requested Halliburton turn over all documents relating to the Deepwater Horizon blast, including any documents that discuss the possibility or risk of a blast aboard the rig and the “status, adequacy, quality, monitoring, and inspection of the cementing work.”

The letter concluded with an indication that the committee could expand the investigation in the future, and that Halliburton be prepared to turn over all internal records pertaining to its Deepwater Horizon operations.