Preventing further oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig takes priority over preserving evidence, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled on Aug. 29.
In an emergency telephone conference, he denied Cameron International's motion for a brief delay in the recovery of a blowout prevention device it installed.
Barbier wrote that it wasn't judicious to interfere with ongoing well control operations.
Cameron faces hundreds of suits claiming its device failed to seal the well.
Its owners wanted to open the device and photograph the interior, to see if someone damaged it prior to the April 20 explosion that killed 11 men.
"Cameron believes that this course of action will allow the maximum preservation and recording of evidence that might still exist," David Beck of Houston wrote on Aug. 29.
He proposed an examination of shearing blind rams in the device.
"It will then be possible to record the position of the rams and to identify any debris that may be across them," he wrote.
"A decision can then be made as to whether the shearing blind rams should also be opened to allow further inspection into lower cavities in the blowout preventer stack where additional material evidence may be present," he wrote.
He warned that if crews lifted the stack, they might strip sections of pipe and other debris from the bore of the device or drop debris down the hole.
For rig operator BP, Don Haycraft of New Orleans opposed a delay.
He attached an Aug. 28 declaration of BP wells operation manager Charles Holt, stating that the purpose of removal wasn't to secure the device for its value as evidence.
The primary purpose was to make way for a functioning device, he wrote.
"This in turn will set the stage for the planned 'bottom kill' operation under the direction of the Unified Command," he wrote.
He wrote that any delay would impede control efforts at a critical time.
He wrote that efforts to capture the interior with video probes hadn't succeeded.
"There is no reason to think further efforts will be any more successful," he wrote.
He wrote that the Unified Command directed BP to proceed with removal.
For Sunday's phone conference, Barbier rounded up six lawyers for Cameron, five for the U.S. government, three each for BP and rig owner Transocean and two for cement supplier Halliburton.
For plaintiffs, James Roy and Stephen Herman of New Orleans joined the conference.
For the Unified Command, Mike Underhill argued that opening the device could cause oil to leak.
He told Barbier that initial preparation for removal was taking place at that moment.
Barbier told BP to proceed.
He wrote that the Unified Command and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were also concerned about preservation of evidence.
He found those concerns secondary to securing the well to prevent further oil spill.
Barbier presides over oil spill cases from federal courts in five states by appointment of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.