BP plc’s Atlantis project in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM), which suffered fits and starts before finally ramping up in 2007, is “presently not fit for service under normal engineering standards,” a lawyer for a former BP contractor — and now whistle-blower — said at a pretrial hearing in Houston Monday.

The Atlantis subsea structure, one of the biggest platforms in the GOM, should be shuttered until it is proven to comply with U.S. safety and environmental laws, said David Perry, who is lead attorney for Kenneth W. Abbott, a former BP contractor. The platform serves the Atlantis field in Green Canyon Block 699 and is capable of processing 200,000 b/d of oil and 180 MMcf/d of natural gas (see Daily GPI, Dec. 19, 2007). In 2011, which was impacted by the deepwater drilling moratorium, Atlantis produced on average 60,000 b/d of oil.

However, BP attorney Lynne Liberator told Hughes Monday that Atlantis is “safe” and there was “no urgency” to make repairs to the pipe connection. “The Interior Department said it was safe after an extensive investigation,” which included assessing Abbott’s allegations (see Daily GPI, March 8, 2011).

According to a court filing by BP in January, the Department of Interior (DOI) “affirmatively determined that Atlantis is safe, that BP is in compliance, and that there is no basis to shut it in…The court should not substitute its judgment for the judgment of DOI’s engineers, inspectors and regulatory experts.”

Abbott, who is joined in the three-year-old lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice and Food & Water Watch Inc., asked Judge Lynn N. Hughes of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston to “take action to oversee remediation to make [Atlantis] fit for service” (Abbott, et al. v BP Exploration and Production Inc. et al., No. 4:09-cv-01193). An amicus brief also was filed by the Houston Chronicle.

Abbott had been an engineering documentation supervisor on Atlantis. He testified before Congress in June 2010 following the Macondo well blowout that nearly 90% of the Atlantis design and construction drawings had not been approved by licensed professional engineers, which is required. Atlantis is moored about 100 miles south of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which served the Macondo well.

According to the lawsuit, BP misled U.S. regulators to obtain operating permits for the platform, which is about 150 miles south of New Orleans. The lawsuit requests that a special master be appointed to oversee measures to ensure that Atlantis is brought into safety and environmental compliance. The plaintiffs also are seeking $7.8 billion from BP, which is the value of oil and gas estimated to have been pumped by BP through Atlantis since it ramped up in 2007. Ironically, that is the same amount that BP agreed to pay earlier this month to the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee to resolve most of the “legitimate economic loss and medical claims” from the Macondo well blowout in April 2010 (see Daily GPI, March 6).

According to Perry, a specific pressure relief valve on the Atlantis platform that protects the 16-inch diameter pipeline to shore “is undersized by a factor of 20 to 1.” A failure of the valve “could cause catastrophe at any time.”

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