Halliburton employee’s smoke break caused him to miss blowout warnings

Brett Michael Dykes
The Lookout

In the months since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf back in April, there's been no shortage of high-profile players in the disaster eagerly affixing someone else with the blame for the whole mess. However, here's a new one: A Halliburton employee working on the rig took a 10-minute smoke break, and in doing so may have missed critical warning signs that a catastrophe was in the offing.

Joseph E. Keith, a senior unit manager for Halliburton, told a U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department panel in Houston that he left his post on the night of the explosion to get some coffee and smoke a cigarette. Keith said that during his absence, pressure data would have given indications that the well was filling with natural gas and oil. Since he never saw that information, he was unable to warn the 11 workers who lost their lives in the explosion to vacate the rig floor.

"Without someone watching those crucial data points, the people working on the rig had no way of knowing something was awry," former energy industry exec Robert Cavnar, the author of a book on the BP oil disaster, told Bloomberg News.