BP Spreads The Blame

BP has rolled out the results of a four-month internal investigation into the causes of the April 20 blowout of its Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in the Gulf oil spill. The company spread blame among its contractors, as it pointed to a “complex and interlinked series” of failures from equipment to engineering and judgment as the cause of the disaster, the Washington Post reported.

A team of 50 internal and external experts led by the company’s head of safety and operations, Mark Bly composed the report, and it comes as the Justice Department is deciding whether to bring charges of criminal negligence against BP, and as legislation in Congress proposes stripping BP of the right to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Blame Game
The report found fault with the recipe Halliburton used in its cement, with the flaps on a Weatherford International barrier device known as a float collar, and with the condition of hydraulic lines and batteries that might have sapped power from the blowout preventer made by Cameron International and operated by Transocean, making it impossible to clamp and cut through steel piping, the Washington Post reported.

“Transocean was solely responsible for operation of the drilling rig and for operations safety,” the report said in an appendix. “It was required to maintain well control equipment and use all reasonable means to control and prevent fire and blowouts.”

The report also said Transocean and BP rig leaders jointly “reached the incorrect view” on well tests in the crucial hours before the explosion. And Bly said BP needs to reexamine the way it oversees work by its contractors.

However, the report defends BP’s widely criticized well design, showing the path that oil and gas followed to escape from the well meant that the well’s casing and design-matters that could otherwise implicate BP-were not factors in the disaster. Rather it pointed to eight failures of equipment and decision making, and said if just one of those failures had not taken place, the explosion would never have occurred.

Tony Hayward, who is stepping down as CEO on Oct. 1, said, “It is evident that a series of complex events, rather than a single mistake or failure, led to the tragedy.” He added, “Multiple parties, including BP, Halliburton and Transocean, were involved.”

Contractors, Congress Responds
Both BP’s contractors and Congress members fired back at BP after the report came out. Some Congress members think BP should take all responsibility for the accident and face harsh punishment for the damage to the Gulf Coast’s environment and economy.

“BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Transocean, an operator of deepwater drilling rigs, also bit back saying,  “This is a self-serving report that attempts to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP’s fatally flawed well design.” It added, “In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk-in some cases, severely.”

Halliburton also criticized the report, in which BP blamed it for using too much nitrogen in a foamlike cement mixture, which the report called “very likely unstable” and that one investigator reportedly compared to shaving cream going flat. The report claimed Halliburton had not properly tested the cement slurry and that requests for samples from Halliburton were ignored. BP then asked an independent lab to create a “representative sample,” based on the known recipe of the cement, and found through its own testing the mixture was too thin, the Washington Post reported.

Halliburton responded, “the well owner is responsible for designing the well program and any testing related to the well. Contractors do not specify well design or make decisions regarding testing procedures as that responsibility lies with the well owner.” Halliburton added BP’s report had “a number of substantial omissions and inaccuracies.”

BP claims that even in the final minutes before the explosion, the disaster might have been prevented if the gas had been directed off the rig rather than sent to a mud gas separator, which vented the gas onto the rig.

BP’s critics have condemned its decision to use only six instead of 21 centralizers, devices for centering the drill pipe in the well. But the BP report said there was no evidence of “channeling” by gas above the main oil- and gas-bearing reservoir, and that as a result the decision to go ahead with just six centralizers “likely did not contribute to the cement’s failure to isolate the main hydrocarbon zones.”

To avoid internal conflict, the BP investigatory group, drew on internal drilling experts from places such as Alaska rather than the Gulf of Mexico. The group also brought in outside experts and hired third parties to conduct tests. They drew on interviews with rig workers, e-mails and data transmitted to shore. However, they lacked evidence from inside the blowout preventer, which was taken from the sea floor Friday and is in government custody.

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