By MICHAEL KUNZELMANAssociated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The first phase of a trial over the deadly Deepwater Horizon disaster neared an end Wednesday with testimony by a former BP executive who helped supervise the company's Gulf of Mexico drilling operations.
Patrick O'Bryan, BP's vice president of drilling and completions in the Gulf of Mexico at the time of the company's April 2010 well blowout, said he never heard any concerns that the rig crew felt pressure to cut corners to finish a project that was behind schedule and over budget. O'Bryan said everybody who worked on the project cared about safety.
"They took pride in what they did. They wanted to deliver a good well, but they wanted to deliver a safe well," O'Bryan said. He testified on the 29th day of a federal trial designed to identify causes of the blowout and assign fault to the companies involved in the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
O'Bryan was one of BP's last witnesses as the first phase of the trial neared its conclusion, possibly as soon as Wednesday. The trial began Feb. 25 and has included testimony by more than three dozen witnesses for the federal government, a team of private plaintiffs' attorneys, London-based BP PLC, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and cement contractor Halliburton.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is hearing the case without a jury. Barring a settlement, he could decide how much more money the companies owe for their roles in the disaster.
Robert Bea, an expert witness for plaintiffs' attorneys, testified earlier in the trial that the drilling team was under enormous financial pressure to finish the Macondo well project.
O'Bryan acknowledged the project was "costing more than we thought" but said he never heard any concerns that safety was sacrificed to speed up the process.
"It's not uncommon to have cost overruns," said O'Bryan, who left BP in 2011 to take a job at a smaller company.
O'Bryan was visiting the Deepwater Horizon when the blowout triggered an explosion that killed 11 rig workers. He described a harrowing race to evacuate the burning rig after the blast.
O'Bryan was on the bridge when the rig started to violently shake. He saw drilling mud showering a supply boat near the rig and heard a hissing noise before the explosion.
When the lights went out on the bridge, the rig's captain, Curt Kuchta, told O'Bryan to don a life vest.
"It just seemed to me he wasn't sure what to do. He was surprised by the loss of power," O'Bryan said of Kuchta, a Transocean employee.
Kuchta has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and wasn't scheduled to testify at the trial.
Andrew Mitchell, a marine safety expert testifying for BP on Wednesday, said Kuchta missed a "last clear chance" to save the rig by failing to promptly activate a system that disconnects the vessel from the well in an emergency.
"He did not fully understand his responsibilities nor his overriding authority as captain of the Deepwater Horizon," Mitchell said. "Transocean operated and implemented a confusing command structure."
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