By Susan Finch
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Transocean's Randy Ezell is still haunted nearly three years later by the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 fellow workers and left him buried in a pile of debris, Ezell testified on Tuesday.
In the second week of a civil trial to determine blame for the disaster, Ezell said his Transocean colleagues did everything within their power to control the well, but there was some misinterpretation of signs of trouble before the blowout.
"I don't really like to talk about it very much," said Ezell, senior toolpusher on the rig drilling the Gulf of Mexico well for BP Plc before a blowout triggered the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The U.S. Justice Department, the Gulf states affected and other plaintiffs are suing BP, Transocean and other companies for economic and environmental damages related to the spill.
In the trial's first testimony in court by an eyewitness, Ezell said that on the night of April 20, 2010, he was relaxing in his room after a day's work when a loud explosion knocked him to the floor and left him buried and dazed in debris.
"The place I'd lived in for a year didn't look or feel nothing like it had before; nothing felt right," the 57-year-old career oilfield worker testified in a New Orleans federal court, before judge Carl Barbier.
BP executives have accepted the company's role in the accident, but believe Transcoean and well cementing provider Halliburton Co share the blame.
BP must show that its mistakes do not meet the legal definition of gross negligence required for the highest amount of damages. BP has already spent or committed $37 billion on cleanup, restoration, payouts, settlements and fines.
On top of that, liabilities could stretch into the tens of billions of dollars if Barbier determines BP or the other defendants were grossly negligent. Oil came ashore from Texas to Florida, threatening livelihoods and state economies dependent on seafood and tourism, so the list of plaintiffs is long.
Yet most observers believe the case will be settled before the trial results in a verdict.
Just the legal costs alone have been enormous for all the companies involved. On Friday, Transocean disclosed in its annual report that in the three years through the end of 2012, the company had incurred $372 million in costs, primarily associated with legal expenses for lawsuits and investigations.
The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, No. 10-md-02179, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana.
BP faces a separate case over accusations that it committed fraud by misleading shareholders before and after the spill, and on Tuesday a trial date was set for August 25, 2014.
(Writing by Braden Reddall; Editing by Joseph Radford)