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BP Cut Corners While Constructing Well

WASHINGTON - BP repeatedly cut corners on safety as it rushed to complete its deepwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, overlooking concerns raised by its contractors and some of its own employees, according to documents released Monday by congressional investigators.

The oil giant did not follow standard industry procedures and may even have violated federal regulations by failing to adequately test whether cement in the well was capable of holding back the intense pressures from a gas and oil reservior more than 18,000 feet deep, said two leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The April 20 blowout killed 11 people and opened up a geyser of high-pressure oil that has become the worst spill in the nation's history.

Oil drilling consultant Gordon Aaker told committee investigators BP's decision was "unheard of" and "horribly negligent," said the letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward, who will testify before the committee Thursday.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., head of an investigative subcommittee, said preliminary evidence points toward questionable choices by BP.

"Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense," they wrote.

In the days leading to the accident, BP was focused on spiraling costs and missed deadlines instead of safety, according to documents released by the committee:

- Federal regulations require tests to ensure cement can hold back oil in problem-plagued wells, but BP chose to do without the test.

- BP opted to use a single metal casing in the well despite internal documents saying it was riskier than adding a second liner down the shaft. The single casing saved BP $7 million to $10 million.

- A computer simulation performed three days before the blowout by Halliburton, a BP subcontractor responsible for cementing the well, predicted a leak was likely because of uneven cement inside the well shaft. BP rejected Halliburton's suggestion to add special equipment to ensure the cement was adequate.

- In the days before the blowout, BP did not follow its own operations plan and the recommendations of Halliburton when it did not flush drilling mud from the well. Flushing the mud can detect a leak.

- The oil firm did not install a sleeve at the top of the well to ensure that it did not leak.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said "it would be inappropriate to comment" prior to Hayward's testimony.

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