BP Lacked `Operating Discipline’ Before Rig Blast, Panel Says

Former secretary of the Navy and chair of the study committee Donald Winter

Decisions made by BP Plc before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig suggest that potential risks were ignored and that a “lack of operating discipline” contributed to the disaster, according to an interim report from a technical panel.

The findings question the competency of key personnel on the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, according to the report from a committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. The blast sank the rig, killed 11 workers and set off the worst U.S. oil spill.

The report highlights the decision to proceed with temporarily sealing the well after tests showed that cement put in place to prevent natural gas from seeping in wasn’t effective, a similar conclusion reached by a panel formed by President Barack Obama to probe the spill. U.S. regulators responsible for overseeing offshore drilling provided “insufficient” checks and balances, the report found.

“Important decisions made to proceed toward well abandonment despite several indications of potential hazard suggest an insufficient consideration of risks,” Donald Winter, former secretary of the Navy and chair of the study committee, said in a statement.

These flawed decisions weren’t identified or corrected by BP and its service contractors, or by the oversight process employed by the U.S. Minerals Management Service and other regulatory agencies, Winter said.

BP shares the authorities’ “goal to prevent future accidents and oil spills from offshore drilling operations,” the London-based company said in an e-mailed statement. “We therefore have cooperated with the committee and will continue to do so as it reviews the issues raised in its interim report.”

The blowout spewed crude into the Gulf for 87 days and shut thousands of square miles to fishing. Last month, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill appointed by Obama said cement recommended by Halliburton Co., the world’s second-largest oilfield-services provider, to seal the well was unstable and may have led to the explosion.

It may not be possible to determine why oil and gas entered BP’s Macondo well because of the death of key witnesses, the loss of the rig and operating records and the difficulty in trying to obtain evidence from the site 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface, the report said.

The committee also lacks information from the blowout preventer, the device that failed to shut off the flow of oil and gas in the event of a blowout. The committee offered no recommendations in its preliminary report.

Though test results indicated that cement meant to seal the well was suspect, workers on the rig proceeded with steps to temporarily abandon the exploratory well, the report found. The decision to accept the test results without a review by engineers based on shore “suggests a lack of onboard expertise and of clearly defined responsibilities,” according to the report.

Bad decisions were compounded by delays in recognizing that oil and gas were flowing into the well. Hydrocarbons entered the well undetected for almost an hour before the first explosion. Actions to control the well weren’t taken and gas was funneled through equipment that vented above the rig floor instead of overboard.

“Of particular concern is an apparent lack of a systems approach that would integrate the multiplicity of factors potentially affecting the safety of the well, monitor the overall margins of safety, and assess the various decisions from perspectives of well integrity and safety,” according to the panel. Its findings were reported earlier today by the Wall Street Journal.

BP faulted its own engineers for the fatal drilling-rig blast in an internal investigation, and said contractors Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig, and Halliburton share the blame.

The presidential panel investigating the spill found no evidence decisions were made to put profit ahead of safety on the drilling rig, its co-chairman said last week.

Environmental groups and lawmakers have said BP cut corners to reduce costs as the company sought to complete the doomed well that was $58.4 million over budget and move the Deepwater Horizon rig to another project.

The U.S. House in July passed legislation that would bar BP from offshore drilling leases based on safety lapses.

“We certainly found no evidence that anyone had scrimped on safety, for example, to save money,” William Reilly, co- chairman of the panel, told reporters Nov. 8. He later said, “What we have really heard today is a story of what appears to be several very human decisions made by competent professionals who missed signals.” Source: bloomberg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *