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Commission Finds Changes Needed To Avoid Future Oil Spills

January 6, 2011

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling has found that all three primary parties involved in the environmental disaster were at least partially to blame, and that a catastrophe of this manner could happen again unless there are significant changes in the industry.

An excerpt of the commission’s final report, which is scheduled to be delivered to President Barack Obama next week, was released to the media and posted on the organization’s official website on Wednesday. According to the Associated Press (AP), the report “described systemic problems within the offshore oil and gas industry and government regulators who oversee it.”

“The oil spill commission said poor decisions led to technical problems that contributed to the April 20 accident that killed 11 people and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from BP’s well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico,” AP reporters Harry R. Weber and Dina Cappiello said. “Inquiries by BP and Congress have found the same.”

“BP, Halliburton and Transocean, the three key companies involved with the well and the rig that exploded, each made individual decisions that increased risks of a blowout but saved significant time or money,” Weber and Cappiello added. “But ultimately, the Deepwater Horizon disaster came down to a single failure, the panel says: management. When decisions were made, no one was considering the risk they were taking.”

Specifically, nine different technical and engineering calls increased the risk of a blowout occurring. In one case, an “unusually deep cement plug” was approved by the Minerals Management Service just an hour and a half after BP placed their request for it.

BBC News reports that the commission found BP did not have adequate controls in place to prevent the blowout that lead to the explosion.

Additionally, according to AFP reports, both Halliburton and Transocean, which oversaw the well-sealing operation, were to blame for “ignoring key warnings and failing to take the necessary precautions to avert the massive spill,” including the former admitting to bypassing a vital cement test not long before the blowout occurred.

“Specific risks the report identifies include: a flawed design for the cement used to seal the bottom of the well; a test of that seal identified problems but was ‘incorrectly judged a success’; [and] the workers’ failure to recognize the first signs of the impending blow-out,” the British news agency added.

“The accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies”¦ Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blow-out clearly saved those companies significant time (and money),” the presidential panel wrote, according to various media reports.

In an interview with BBC’s World Today program, commission member Don Boesch said that he and his colleagues had identified “a whole sequence of poor decisions with unfortunate consequences when put together,” and added that American government agencies also shared some of the blame.

“What we found was very limited oversight of these various activities and decisions, that the agency responsible in the Department of the Interior was understaffed, [and] didn’t have the inspectors and technical analysts who were up to the task fully,” Boesch told the British news agency.

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