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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Team Roden Analytics, a group of engineering students interested in entrepreneurship, is a competing finalist in the global British Petroleum Ultimate Field Trip competition in Houston in April. 

BP hosts the competition each year to engage with college students who may be interested in the oil and gas industry. UT students have reached the UFT national level the last two years, but none have yet to win the grand prize, an exclusive trip to Trinidad and Tobago.

Malvika Gupta, biomedical engineering junior and Roden Analytics team member, said she has already learned a lot from the competition, and she is glad her team has been exposed to the oil and gas industry.

“There will be teams from six other universities, including MIT, Penn State, Rice, A&M, University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign and the University of Oklahoma,” Gupta said. “Every team had to have a pretty great idea for them to have gotten this far, so it’s really hard to tell who our biggest competitor will be.”  

The competition began with a quiz designed to test the students’ knowledge of oil and gas. Students were then tasked with creating a workable solution for a realistic problem confronting those working in the oil and gas industry.

This year’s challenge involved creating a solution that would reduce surplus water produced from routine operations in an oil or gas plant and find an efficient use for that water. Teams then present their plans to three BP judges. The winning teams continued as finalists to the national competition in Houston.

The competition gives students an opportunity to gain real-world experience, according to Jason Terrell, a talent acquisition manager at BP.

“[The goal is] to provide students an opportunity to explore the industry, while, at the same time, enabling students to embrace new and exciting ideas head-on,” Terrell said.

College students from the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Angola participate in UFT, and winners from each country are selected to go on the two-week grand prize trip, where they are exposed to the mechanics of a BP operation.

Julia Harvie-Liddel, head of resourcing at BP, said she hopes UFT helps students start learning about the oil and gas industry and get a head start on their careers. 

“We hope that this will give students a real insight into our industry and show them a career in oil in gas is a platform from which they can make a real difference,” Harvie-Liddel said. 

James Dupree, BP chief operating officer of reservoir development and technology, presents a check to the Jackson School of Geosciences on Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

BP donated $120,000 to the Jackson School of Geosciences’ GeoFORCE program Tuesday, bringing the total amount the oil and gas company has donated to the program to $1 million since 2007. 

GeoFORCE is a selective outreach program through the Jackson School that focuses on at-risk high school students in the South Texas and Houston areas. The program is set up for students to apply in the eighth grade, with the goal that GeoFORCE can work with them through all four summers of their high school careers.

From the applicants, around 600 students are accepted and taken on a week-long geological trip all over the United States. During the trip, professors, researchers and other professional geologists help students discover what geology is. Along with geoscience courses, students are encouraged to take on the challenges of math and science courses. 

According to Eleanour Snow, associate director of the program, 481 students from GeoFORCE are enrolled in 85 different universities across the nation. Of those students, 97 are currently enrolled at the UT. Through the program, 97 percent of the campers have gone on to college, and 96 percent of those students returned to school the following year.

Four graduates of the GeoFORCE program attended a Tuesday ceremony in which Samuel Moore, director of outreach and diversity for the program, received the donation check from James Dupree, BP chief operating officer of reservoir development and technology.

“BP is always seeking for diversity and helping out in the communities,” Dupree said. “This is a great opportunity to get kids involved and interested in the geosciences and STEM. By reaching out to them, many of them have the opportunity to become first-generation family members to go onto college.”

Former GeoFORCE member Edgar Aguilar said he was thankful for the opportunities GeoFORCE gave him as a student, as the program helped him realize his passion for geoscience.

“A lot of people do not know about the program,” Aguilar said. “But, if more people knew about it, I guarantee more would be interested.”  

Having started in 2005, the GeoFORCE program just completed its 10th summer. Dupree said BP’s donation will ensure the program continues to inspire and educate high school students.

British Petroleum announced Thursday that it will give $4 million to the University to fund research focused on industry projects in the oil and gas fields in various departments of the Cockrell School of Engineering. 

John Ekerdt, associate dean of the engineering school, said these projects will allow faculty and students to work with BP engineers to investigate solutions for real issues that BP encounters.

“We believe that addressing America’s energy challenges requires long-term partnerships between the private sector and leading educational and scientific institutions,” BP spokesman Brett Clanton said. “UT’s world-class strengths in engineering and geosciences made it a natural fit for this partnership.”

A joint governance board will select the projects that start off the partnership and any additional projects that are funded from BP’s commitment.

One of the initial projects called “Human in the Loop” will look at the human element in taking preventative measures as real-time signals are provided to a machine that a person monitors in case something were to go wrong, Ekerdt said. This specific project will involve analyzing and working with the control of processes that make sure the machine operates correctly.

“I think that this is an example of how universities and industry can work together to solve problems that are real and that people can watch and see the implementation of their solutions,” Ekerdt said. “It’s a very good example of use inspired research.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — BP put profits ahead of safety and bears most of the blame for the disastrous 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a U.S. Justice Department attorney charged Monday at the opening of a trial that could result in the oil company and its partners being forced to pay tens of billions of dollars more in damages.

The London-based oil giant acknowledged it made “errors in judgment” before the deadly blowout, but it also cast blame on the owner of the drilling rig and the contractor involved in cementing the well. It denied it was grossly negligent, as the government contended.

The high-stakes civil case went to trial after attempts to reach an 11th-hour settlement failed.

Eleven workers were killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the BP exploded on April 20, 2010. An estimated 172 millions of gallons of crude gushed into the Gulf over the three months that followed in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Justice Department attorney Mike Underhill said the catastrophe resulted from BP’s “culture of corporate recklessness.”

“The evidence will show that BP put profits before people, profits before safety and profits before the environment,” Underhill said in opening statements.

BP attorney Mike Brock acknowledged that the oil company made mistakes. But he accused rig owner Transocean Ltd. of failing to properly maintain the rig’s blowout preventer, which had a dead battery, and he claimed cement contractor Halliburton used a “bad slurry” that failed to prevent oil and gas from traveling up the well.

BP has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges and has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses, including cleanup costs, compensation for businesses and individuals and $4 billion in criminal penalties.

But the federal government, Gulf Coast states and individuals and businesses hope to convince a federal judge that the company and its partners in the ill-fated drilling project are liable for much more in civil damages under the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations.

One of the biggest questions facing U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is hearing the case without a jury, is whether BP acted with gross negligence.

Under the Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay a minimum of $1,100 per barrel of spilled oil; The fines nearly quadruple to about $4,300 a barrel for companies found grossly negligent, meaning BP could be on the hook for nearly $18 billion.

The judge plans to hold the trial in at least two phases. The first phase, which could last three months, is designed to determine what caused the blowout and assign percentages of blame to the companies involved. The second phase will determine how much crude spilled into the Gulf.

During opening arguments, BP and its partners pointed the finger at each other in a tangle of accusations and counter-accusations. But BP got the worst of it, from its partners and the plaintiffs in the case.

British oil company BP said Thursday, it is in advanced talks with U.S. agenciies about settling criminal and other claims from the Gulf of Mexico well blowout two years ago. (Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard)

NEW ORLEANS — The manslaughter charges brought against two relatively low-ranking BP rig workers in the deadly Gulf of Mexico disaster may be as far as federal prosecutors are willing to go.

The Justice Department has said only that its criminal investigation is still going on.

“Either there simply isn’t evidence that anybody higher up was involved, or the department has concluded the only way it’s going to make its case against more senior corporate officers is if it charges and eventually obtains cooperation” from the two men, said David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section.

A federal indictment unsealed last week charged BP rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine with botching a crucial safety test before the 2010 drilling-platform explosion that killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Two and a half years after the blast, they are the only individuals charged directly in the tragedy, despite a string of government investigations that spread fault among a host of people and companies. None of the company’s onshore engineers or executives was accused of wrongdoing in the indictment. BP agreed last week to plead guilty to charges related to the workers’ deaths and pay a record $4.5 billion.

NEW ORLEANS — A day of reckoning arrived for BP on Thursday as the oil giant agreed to plead guilty to a raft of criminal charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in a settlement with the government over the deadly 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Three BP employees were also charged, two of them with manslaughter.

The settlement and the indictments came two and a half years after the fiery drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The settlement includes nearly $1.3 billion in fines, the largest criminal penalty in the nation’s history. As part of the deal, BP will plead guilty to charges involving the 11 deaths and lying to Congress about how much oil was spewing from the blown-out well.

“We believe this resolution is in the best interest of BP and its shareholders,” BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said. “It removes two significant legal risks and allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims.”

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the deaths and the oil spill “resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence.”

Separately, BP rig workers Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine were indicted on federal charges of manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, accused of repeatedly disregarding abnormal high-pressure readings that should have been glaring indications of trouble just before the blowout.

In addition, David Rainey, BP’s former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, was charged with obstruction of Congress and making false statements. Prosecutors said he withheld information that more oil was gushing from the well than he let on.

Rainey’s lawyers said he did “absolutely nothing wrong.” And attorneys for the two rig workers accused the Justice Department of making scapegoats out of them. Both men are still with BP.

“Bob was not an executive or high-level BP official. He was a dedicated rig worker who mourns his fallen co-workers every day,” Kaluza attorneys Shaun Clarke and David Gerger said in a statement. “No one should take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man. This is not justice.”

Although American businesses benefit from partnerships with Chinese companies, Chinese regulations make it difficult for partnerships to begin in the first place, panelists said at the Executive Education and Conference Center on Thursday.

The McCombs’ Energy Management and Innovation Center hosted the panel “Pensions, China and Shale Gas: CFOs Reveal.” CFOs from Apache Corp., Boeing, BP and Celanise Corp. discussed all three title topics, but their work in China was the focus of the night.

Steven Sterin, Celanese Corp. senior vice president and CFO, said the risk of losing intellectual property in China is a reality companies face. He said Celanese, a fuel technologies business that manufactures ethanol, has partnered with Chinese companies for the past 35 years without running into the problem because of company safeguards.

“You can’t protect all of your technology there, although China’s beginning to protect intellectual property,” Sterin said. “I still think we’re a long ways away from having enforcement that’s meaningful. You’ve got to be careful who you partner with in a joint venture.”

Niloy Shah, CFO of BP’s Gulf of Mexico region, said its business in China is profitable, although Chinese policies can limit access to international companies. He said one limiting policy requires a Chinese company to hold 51 percent equity in international business ventures, which gives it control of operation and partnership in intellectual property.

“They want to get the knowledge from intellectual property, but from a business-sharing standpoint, you basically get full cost recovery,” Shah said. “There’s this misconception that you can’t make money in China, but you do have to bring the technology.”

Shah said BP is watching carefully as its partners in China start deep-water drilling in an effort to avoid any incidents like the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.

“BP brought in an exploration program, discovered a field and at the point where you recover cost, the assets were turned over to the Chinese,” Shah said. “They are just beginning to do deep-water rigs, and obviously we’re monitoring that closely, because deep-water is not any easy business to be in.”

History senior Mansal Denton said it was important the panelists discussed business as well as the politics involved when companies work in China.

“It was interesting to hear them say a lot of these big American companies can’t afford not to be in China, but their hands are kind of tied by the intellectual property restrictions and lack of enforcement of intellectual property law,” Denton said.

Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Rules do not inhibit business in China 

The McCombs School of Business presents Ellis Armstrong, CFO of Exploration and Broduction for BP, with an honary Stetson Hat following his apperance at WednesdayÂ’s VIP Speaker Session.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

Donning a black Stetson cowboy hat presented to him by the Undergraduate Business Council and holding up a Hook ‘Em Horns sign, BP executive Ellis Armstrong concluded his discussion chronicling his journey up the corporate ladder as part of the McCombs VIP Distinguished Speaker Series.

Armstrong, Chief Financial Officer of Exploration and Production at BP, participated in a discussion Wednesday evening with David Platt, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the McCombs School of Business, followed by a Q-and-A session where he offered advice on everything from family life to natural gas price speculation. The Undergraduate Business Council organized the event as part of the McCombs VIP Distinguished Speaker Series. The event was free to all UT students.

As he recounted his professional successes and mistakes, Armstrong drew on his personal experiences to offer advice to college students.

“The thing I would have told myself in college is don’t get too stressed about making the right choice because some people know all their life they want to do a certain thing,” Armstrong said. “At least in my life, I didn’t know, so the thing I would have told myself is give yourself the most options and pick one that you are going to like doing.”

BP, a name that has become inextricably and infamously linked with the Deepwater Horizon explosion that resulted in nearly five millions barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, has worked to correct the damage since the spill in April 2010, Armstrong said.

“Obviously the events of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico were a tragic accident and everybody wishes it did not happen. But the thing that is interesting though, is that the response to that accident did actually, in a deep way, reveal the values of the company,” Armstrong said.

Finance and computer science student, Jay Shah, who serves as chair of the VIP Distinguished Speaker Series, said BP’s global standing and prominence on the UT campus motivated the Undergraduate Business Council to invite Armstrong to speak.

“BP is a company that has a strong presence at UT, both in the business school and outside,” Shah said. “We know how many students are recruited by BP and we know how big of a role they play in energy throughout the world.”

Business freshman, Liam Woolley-MacMath, said being able to see and hear from Armstrong and the other speakers the series brings to campus is extremely beneficial to undergraduate students.

“That’s basically all of our dream jobs,” Wooley-MacMath said. “Just to see somebody in that position is kind of inspiring.”

Printed on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 as: Distinguished Speaker Series features BP CFO Armstrong

NEW ORLEANS — Federal prosecutors brought the first criminal charges Tuesday in the Gulf oil spill, accusing a former BP engineer of deleting more than 300 text messages that indicated the blown-out well was spewing far more crude than the company was telling the public at the time.

Kurt Mix of Katy, Texas, was arrested and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence.

The U.S. Justice Department made it clear that the investigation is still going on and suggested that more people could be arrested. In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors “will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”

Federal investigators have been looking into the causes of the blowout and the actions of managers, engineers and rig workers at BP and its subcontractors Halliburton and Transocean in the days and hours before the April 20, 2010, explosion.

But the case against Mix focuses only on the aftermath of the blast, when BP scrambled for weeks to plug the leak. Even then, the charges are not really about the disaster itself, but about an alleged attempt to thwart the investigation into it.

In court papers, the FBI said one of the areas under investigation is whether the oil company intentionally lowballed the amount of crude spewing from the well.

In outlining the charges, the government suggested Mix knew the rate of flow from the busted well was much greater than the company publicly acknowledged.

Prosecutors also said BP gave the public an optimistic account of its May 2010 efforts to plug the well via a technique called a “top kill,” even though the company’s internal data and some of the text messages showed the operation was likely to fail.

An accurate flow-rate estimate is necessary to determine how much in penalties BP and its subcontractors could face under the Clean Water Act. In court papers, prosecutors appeared to suggest the company was also worried about the effect of the disaster on its stock price.

The charges came a day before a federal judge was to consider granting preliminary approval of a $7.8 billion civil settlement between BP and a committee of plaintiffs.

In a statement, BP said it is cooperating with the Justice Department and added: “BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence.”

The FBI said in court papers that Mix had been repeatedly notified by BP that instant messages and text messages needed to be preserved.

Mix, who resigned from BP in January, appeared on Tuesday afternoon before a judge in Houston, shackled at his hands and feet, and was released on $100,000 bail. His attorney had no comment afterward. If convicted, Mix could get up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

The engineer deleted more than 200 messages sent to a BP supervisor from his iPhone containing information about how much oil was spilling out, then erased 100 more messages to a contractor the following year, prosecutors said. Some of the messages were later recovered via forensic computer techniques.

Many of the messages had to do with an effort to plug up the well with heavy mud injected under high pressure.

In public statements, the company professed optimism that the top kill would work, giving it a 60 to 70 percent chance of success.

On the day the top kill began, Mix estimated in a text to his supervisor that more than 15,000 barrels of oil per day were spilling — three times BP’s public estimate of 5,000 barrels and an amount much greater than what BP said the top kill could probably handle.

At the end of the first day, Mix texted his supervisor: “Too much flow rate — over 15,000 and too large an orifice.” Despite Mix’s findings, BP continued to make public statements that the top kill was proceeding according to plan, prosecutors said. On May 29, the top kill was halted and BP announced its failure.

The company’s stock dropped 15 percent on the next trading day, the government said.

David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor who was chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, said the charges are probably “just the first of what will be multiple criminal charges.”

“It could be the sign that the government believes there was a more far-reaching cover-up about the size of the spill,” he said.

BP stock closed at $41.91 Tuesday, a drop of just 4 cents. Analysts said investors evidently recognized the charges involved just one, low-ranking employee and saw no hint yet of any kind of larger cover-up on BP’s part.

The explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil leaked from the well off the Louisiana coast before it was capped.

Under the Clean Water Act, polluters can be fined $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil, with the higher amount imposed if the government can show the disaster was caused by gross negligence.

Al Sunseri, whose family-owned oyster business was damaged by the spill, said there was little real news in the arrest of Mix. “I personally believe it’s so involved that we could never really understand the magnitude of the bad players involved,” he said.

Billy Nungesser, president of hard-hit Plaquemines Parish who has long accused BP of misleading the public about the spill, said: “We’re just glad that the truth, and all the truth, will come out. Where crimes were committed, BP needs to pay the price.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 as: Engineer charged on BP oil spill for allegedly deleting evidence

Texas is the first state affected by the BP oil spill to use settlement money from a BP investor for habitat conservation efforts, leading to more coastal restoration attempts in the future.

The 2010 spill was a result of an explosion of the offshore drill Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling on a well operated by BP. BP investor MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC agreed to settle their liabilities in the spill, giving the state of Texas $6.5 million, according to the Texas attorney general’s website. Part of Texas’ settlement money will go towards acquiring 80 acres of land from the Goose Island State Park in Aransas, Texas to create a safe habitat for the whooping crane population, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife website.

Katelyn Jordan, biology senior and Marine Science Club historian, said she supports the move towards conserving the whooping crane’s habitat and hopes to see more work in vulnerable coastline areas in the future.

“Some of the most fragile areas on the coastline are estuaries and coastal watershed areas because they really dictate things like salinity levels,” Jordan said. “Those are areas most impacted by oil spills. A lot smaller organisms like coastal birds live in that kind of environment and I definitely think it’s important to work to conserve their habitat.”

Conservation of habitats such as the whooping crane’s is just of one several initiatives environmentalists hope to act on, said Don Pitts, state coordinator for the Kills and Spills Team for Texas Parks & Wildlife.

“Habitat preservation is one of several different opportunities we utilize,” Pitts said. “We either like to preserve or protect, or create additional habitats in order to offset some of these damages.”

Pitts said the use of the settlement money to acquire state land for these efforts is an appropriate use of the funds.

“It’s a great opportunity to use restoration dollars to improve habitat using Texas resources,” Pitts said. “It’s a wonderful tract of land and a great opportunity for us to acquire and use it for this kind of preservation.”

Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, said Texas was less affected by the spill than other states, which allows officials to allocate this money for other conservation efforts, such as helping the whooping crane.

“This settlement is just a fraction of the overall case,” Stokes said. “[MOEX] is just one of the dependents. The settlement is going to be split among the five states, but a little more will go to states that were more affected. Even though we didn’t have more oil on our shores, our resources were still affected in the Gulf. This will go to more general coastal protection and conservation.”

Stokes said further settlement money from the spill could potentially be allocated to continued coastal restoration if Congress passes the RESTORE Act of 2011. Stokes said the RESTORE Act of 2011, which has not yet been passed by Congress, would require 80 percent of any settlement funds from the spill to go towards these coastal restoration projects. He said the current conservation efforts being made by Texas are additional attempts at restoration without the prompting of the RESTORE Act.

Printed on Thursday, April 12, 2012 as: Texas environmental initiatives gain funds from BP settlement