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Witness: BP Took 'Shortcuts' Before Well Blowout

Senior managers complained oil giant BPwas "taking shortcuts" by replacing heavy drilling fluid withsaltwater in the well that blew out, triggering the massive oilspill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to witness statementsobtained by The Associated Press.

Truitt Crawford, a roustabout for drilling rig owner TransoceanLTD, told Coast Guard investigators about the complaints. Theseawater, which would have provided less weight to contain surgingpressure from the ocean depths, was being used to prepare fordropping a final blob of cement into the well.

"I overheard upper management talking saying that BP was takingshortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mudwithout sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blewout," Crawford said in his statement.

A spokesman for BP, which was leasing the rig Deepwater Horizonwhen it exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering amassive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, declined to comment.

BP conducted tests Wednesday in preparation for its latest bidto plug the leaking well by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud andcement. BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said on NBC's "Today"show that he would decide Wednesday morning whether to allow crewsto try the procedure called a top kill.

Meanwhile, the statements from workers ahead of a hearing in NewOrleans Wednesday and a congressional memo about a BP internalinvestigation of the blast indicated warning signs were ignored.Tests less than an hour before the well blew out found a buildup ofpressure that was an "indicator of a very large abnormality,"BP's investigator said, according to the congressional memo.

Still, the rig team was "satisfied" that another test wassuccessful and resumed adding the seawater, said the memo by U.S.Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak to members of the Committee onEnergy and Commerce, which is investigating what went wrong.

There were other signs of problems, including an unexpected lossof fluid from a pipe known as a riser five hours before theexplosion, which the memo said could have indicated a leak in theblowout preventer, a huge piece of equipment that should have shutdown the well in case of an emergency. BP has cited its failure asa contributor to the blast.

Frustration is growing with BP and the federal government asseveral efforts to stop the leak have failed. At least 7 milliongallons of crude have spilled into the sea, fouling Louisiana'smarshes and coating birds and other wildlife.

President Barack Obama prepared to head to the Gulf on Friday toreview efforts to halt the oil that scientists said seems to begrowing significantly darker, from what they can see in anunderwater video. It suggests that heavier, more-polluting oil isspewing out.

Ahead of his trip, Obama planned to address an InteriorDepartment review of offshore drilling that is expected torecommend tougher safety protocols and inspections for theindustry, according to an administration official. The officialspoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the public releaseThursday of the findings of a 30-day review Obama ordered after thespill.

A new report from the Interior Department's acting inspectorgeneral alleged that drilling regulators have been so close to oiland gas companies they've been accepting gifts including huntingand fishing trips and even negotiating to go work for them.

The top kill BP is poised to try Wednesday involves pumpingenough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of the well.

Engineers plan to follow it up with cement that the companyhopes will permanently seal the well. It may be several days beforeBP knows if it worked. Hayward earlier pegged its chances ofsuccess at 60 to 70 percent.

Bob Bea, an engineering professor at the University ofCalifornia at Berkeley, said the procedure carries a high risk offailure because of the velocity at which the oil may be spewing.

"I certainly pray that it works, because if it doesn't there'sthis long waiting time" before BP can dig relief wells that wouldcut off the flow, Bea said.

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