February 18, 2011

Design, Oversight Flaws Contributed To Oil Spill Blowout

Misguided well design decisions by BP officials, poor oversight of a cement contractor that they had received warnings about years beforehand, an ill-timed reorganization of the engineering staff, and the lack of cooperation from their partners were all factors that played a part in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, the national commission investigating the oil spill revealed on Thursday.

In their final report to President Obama, the National Oil Spill Commission discovered that as early as 2007, a team of consultants had warned the British-based petroleum company that they needed to improve communication with Halliburton, the cement contractor used for the ill-fated Macondo Well, in order to avoid "delays or errors in the slurry design testing."

The Oil Spill Commission also learned that BP's own cementing expert said that the company's work was "operationally competent and just good enough technically to get buy." Furthermore, BP engineers said that they had been forced to "work around" the Halliburton engineer working on the well for years, and that the individual in question of "not cutting it" and often delayed important tests.

Despite that, the Commission reported that those BP engineers "neither reviewed his work at Macondo carefully, nor even checked to see that he conducted testing in a timely manner--even though they knew that their last minute changes to the cement design test could cause problems and that using nitrogen foamed cement could pose 'significant stability challenges.'"

Those findings were discovered and reported by Chief Counsel Fred Bartlit and his investigative team, who also noted that a reorganization among the BP engineering team in early 2010 "resulted in delays and distractions for the team drilling the Macondo well"¦ The reorganization appears to have had an impact on decision-making in the weeks leading up to the blowout, the time during which virtually all of the decisions identified by the Chief Counsel's team as increasing the risk of a blowout were made."

Bartlit's report also said that the blowout preventer was not the "root cause" of the blowout.

"The rig crew activated the BOP, at best, only moments before the blowout began. By then, hydrocarbons had already gone past the BOP into the riser and were expanding rapidly towards the rig floor. Even if the BOP had functioned flawlessly, the rig would have exploded and 11 men would have died," a February 17 Oil Commission press release said.

Bartlit also noted that once issues with Halliburton's cement recipe were discovered, the Houston-based company would no longer cooperate with his team's investigation. According to Bloomberg reporter Jim Efstathiou Jr., the Oil Spill Commission did not have the authority to subpoena witnesses or documents from the oilfield services corporation.

In an email sent to Efstathiou, BP Spokesman Scott Dean had that the company "has made every effort to understand the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident to help prevent similar events from occurring in the future"¦ The findings of the Presidential Commission--particularly that the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple parties--are largely consistent with those contained in the BP internal investigation report."

A Halliburton spokesman declined Bloomberg's request for comment, but Houston Chronicle reporter Jennifer A. Dlouhy said on Thursday that the company had released a statement in which they said they were reviewing the report. "It previously has disputed that its cement job was to blame and instead has faulted problems with the design of the well," she added.


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