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Chris McIntyre, the man who saved BP (and the Gulf)? – Part II: The Invention


This article originally posted in the Anchorage edition of The Legal Examiner.


Chris McIntyre and his sister, Suzanne Carapella.

In the early morning hours of May 14, 2010, Chris McIntyre emailed BP the design that the company ultimately used to seal the well.

On May 14, 2010, at 3:48 a.m. Alaska Standard Time, Chris McIntyre, the unlikely hero described in Part I of The Man Who Saved BP, emailed the company a PDF which contained a description and design drawings for his unique, new and novel method for stemming the onslaught of oil flowing from the blown out Macondo Well under the Deepwater Horizon rig. McIntyre, answering British Petroleum’s desperate call for ideas – any ideas – that would help mitigate and possibly stop the oil major’s disaster, submitted his PDF early that Friday morning. McIntyre’s design, which threw conventional wisdom out the window by seizing on a unique connection point and venting capability not previously employed in the industry, would go on to save the Gulf of Mexico and quite possibly, British Petroleum itself.

BP’s Clean Water Act Trial – More questions than answers

By all indications, upon receipt of McIntyre’s drawings, BP immediately went about planning to install the device (in industry parlance, the company prepared to “splash” McIntyre’s ventable valve and land it above the Lower Marine Riser Package by attaching it to the Flex Joint Flange). Prior to the April 20, 2010 explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, such a configuration had never before been contemplated by anyone, as BP’s own experts, contractors and employees would testify at the company’s Clean Water Act (CWA) trial in 2013.

The following is CWA trial testimony from BP’s lead employee in charge of well control, Mark Mazzella:

Attorney: “Prior to the Deepwater Horizon event in April of 2010, did Wild Well Control, Cudd, or Boots & Coots [oil well control specialist companies] have a deepwater capping stack [McIntyre’s device] available for use by you [BP] or others in industry?”

Mazzella: “No sir. They did not.”

Attorney: “Do you know of any entity in the entire oil and gas industry that had prebuilt deepwater capping stacks [McIntyre’s device] prior to the Deepwater Horizon incident?”

Mazzella: “No sir. There were not any.”

Attorney: “Prior to the Deepwater Horizon event, had you, in your entire career, in the well control industry, ever seen a document, paper, presentation, that suggested that a capping stack could or should be landed on the flex joint above the LMRP [McIntyre’s design]?”

Mazzella: “Absolutely not.”

It is clear that McIntyre’s “ventable valve attached at the flex joint above the LMRP” did not exist prior to April 20, 2010. However, the timeline gets murky between April 20 and May 14, the morning that Chris McIntyre turned his design drawings over to BP.

Who got there first?

There is no dispute that Chris McIntyre shared his design by email with BP in the wee hours of May 14, 2010. The question is whether someone from the company came up with the same idea concurrently or before McIntyre did. We know from CWA trial testimony (Mazzella – see above – and others) that no one on the planet had conceived of McIntyre’s idea prior to April 20, 2010, so our focus must be on those twenty-four days between the initial explosion, April 20, and McIntyre’s early morning email to BP on May 14.

Once again, we can glean some helpful insight from the 2013 CWA trial testimony. Even though the purpose of that trial was not to determine who conceived of the device that ultimately capped the well, Robert Turlak, Manager for Subsea Engineering and Well Control Systems for Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean, provides useful testimony:

Attorney: “Now, once the Well Capping Team identified the need for a venting option [McIntyre’s design], do you agree that the Well Capping Team worked on this throughout the month of May, correct?”

Turlak: “No. We didn’t even know anything about it [McIntyre’s design] until the middle of May, so…” (emphasis added)

“Until the middle of May”

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word “middle” is “halfway between two points.” The halfway point between May 1 and May 31 is May 15 at Noon. Mr. McIntyre revealed his design to BP on May 14.

Of course, the common understanding of “middle of the month,” when used in this context, might be a few days on either side of the true mean. Nevertheless, Mr. Turlak’s testimony is suggestive, but it soon becomes specific and thus persuasive:

Attorney: “Okay. Prior to May 15, 2010, had you ever heard from BP a concern about venting [McIntyre’s design]?

Turlak: “Not that I remember.”

Attorney: “Sir, when did BP tell you about the venting option [McIntyre’s design]?”

Turlak: “About May 15th.”

Drawing Comparing McIntyre to BP

Figure A: State of the well immediately post accident and prior to any intervention. Figure B: McIntyre’s proposed solution sent to BP on May 14, 2010. Unique and novel aspects include theretofore unheard of connection at the flex joint (green box) and valve allowing venting and “soft shut-in” (yellow box). Figure C: BP’s first iteration of McIntyre’s design (alleged). Figure D: BP’s final iteration of McIntyre’s design (alleged). The device depicted in Figure D was eventually employed by BP to successfully shut in the well. BP’s device used the same essential elements as McIntyre’s, to wit, the unique and novel connection at the flex joint flange above the LMRP and a modified version of McIntyre’s valve concept. Note the near identical length of BP’s riser compared to McIntyre’s. The smoking gun?

The case is Christopher McIntyre v. BP Exploration and Production, et al., Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Docket #: 15-35234.

Read Part III: Chris McIntyre, the man who saved BP (and the Gulf)? – Contradictions

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