March 23, 2011

Stuck Pipe Blamed For 2010 BP Oil Spill

A study released today states that a stuck pipe was to blame for last year's worst-ever oil spill as it impeded a system in place on the BP well to prevent pollution into the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Homeland Security performed a forensic test and called for engineers to take a new look at design to prevent future accidents.

Det Norske Veritas, a Norwegian company that maintains construction standards and performed the study, pointed to problems in the shear rams.  The shear rams are components meant to cut drill pipes as a last resort to avoid blowouts.

The flow from the well shoved the drill pipe into other parts of BP's Macondo well.

"The primary cause of failure was identified as the BSRs (blind shear rams) failing to fully close and seal due to a portion of drill pipe trapped between the," the study concluded.

"It is recommended the industry examine and study the potential conditions that could arise in the event of the loss of well control and the effects those conditions would have on the state of any tubulars that might be present in the wellbore," it said.

Philip Johnson, a University of Alabama civil engineering professor, said the report indicates that the blowout preventer had a design flaw in its blind shear rams that may have gone unnoticed by the entire industry.

"This is the first time in all of this that there has been a clear design flaw in the blowout preventer cited," he told the Associated Press (AP). "My reaction is, 'Holy smokes, every set of blind shear rams out there may have this problem.' We need to take a look at every set of blind shear rams out there and make sure they all don't have this problem."

Det Norske Veritas made several recommendations for the industry in its report, including changing the design of blowout preventers.

Blowout preventers sit at the wellhead of exploratory wells and are supposed to lock in place to prevent a spill in case of an explosion.

The device used with BP's Macondo well was raised from the seafloor September 4.  Testing started at a NASA facility in New Orleans in November.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010 pouring over 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The event has been considered the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.


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