COVER STORY The Revival of Big Red, Not long ago, Halliburton was synonymous with inside deals, Dick Cheney, and the war in Iraq

COVER STORY The Revival of Big Red, Not long ago, Halliburton was synonymous with inside deals, Dick Cheney, and the war in Iraq by Coral Davenport and Yochi J. Dreazen, May 31, 2012, This article appeared in the Saturday, June 2, 2012 edition of National Journal [subscription required]
Its very name remains so toxic that the Reputation Institute, an analysis firm that tracks the public perception of the 150 biggest businesses in America, found that Halliburton has the fourth-worst reputation—coming in behind Bank of America, Citigroup, and American International Group, the companies that directly contributed to the 2008 financial meltdown. … Halliburton’s newest technology initiative, which has quickly become an unofficial company motto, is called “Frac the Future.” … “No matter what happens,” he said, “Halliburton always wins.” Well, maybe not always. In 2010, BP contracted with Halliburton to do what it had supposedly done better than anyone for 91 years: cement an oil well. Its workers mixed the cement that would seal a new ultra-deepwater well called Macondo 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Halliburton’s seal failed, and the well exploded, killing 11 workers and sending more than 100 million gallons of oil spewing into the sea. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill and Offshore Drilling concluded that “primary cement failure was a direct cause of the blowout,” and specifically cited Halliburton employees for using poor judgment and trying to cut costs when they delivered an unstable cement blend. In June 2010, the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation of the company for its involvement in the spill. Halliburton won’t talk about the incident, but even in the midst of the company’s current natural-gas boom, the outcome of the BP probe hovers darkly over its future. … In the meantime, however, environmentalists warn that poorly regulated fracking could one day wreak even more havoc than the Gulf spill by contaminating underground water tables with toxic chemicals. … Two little-known but potentially explosive lawsuits involving members of the Indiana, Oregon, Texas, and West Virginia National Guards charge that the company, through KBR, exposed the troops to toxic chemicals in Iraq. In 2003, KBR was hired to restart operations at the Qarmat Ali water-treatment plant near Basra, a key facility in Iraq’s oil infrastructure. The U.S. soldiers were sent to the plant as bodyguards. In late August, Lt. Col. James Gentry, the commander of the Indiana troops, noticed that the KBR personnel had begun wearing masks and other protective gear. No such equipment was issued to the National Guard soldiers, who had been experiencing respiratory problems, migraines, and nosebleeds. Gentry alerted his superiors and pulled his troops off the assignment. But his order came too late: Gentry, a man with no history of lung cancer, died from the disease in 2008. Sgt. David Moore, another soldier who served at Qarmat Ali, succumbed to lung problems a short time later. The Indiana Guard soldiers sued KBR in 2009; the other affected troops filed suits in 2010. The plaintiffs accused the company of knowing that the plant was contaminated with large quantities of a toxic material called sodium dichromate but failing to relay that information to the troops or give them protective gear. “They knew before the war started that there were massive amounts of this chemical in badly maintained canisters—not months later,” said plaintiffs attorney Michael Doyle in an interview. “And they spent years lying about it.” The suit involving the Indiana, Texas, and West Virginia units is scheduled to go to trial in September, and a separate Oregon trial is set to begin the following month. Doyle declined to discuss how much money his clients stand to gain if they won both cases, but he said the amount could “be ‘Erin Brockovich’-sized.’” Halliburton declined to comment on any aspect of the suits.

This entry was posted in Global Frac News, Other Legal. Bookmark the permalink.