BP Was Aware Of Problems At Deepwater Horizon Months Before Explosion
There’s a fairly disturbing report in today’s New York Times indicating that British Petroleum was aware of safety problems at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig months before the April 20th explosion that destroyed it:
WASHINGTON — Internal documents from BP show that there were serious problems and safety concerns with the Deepwater Horizon rig far earlier than those the company described to Congress last week.
The problems involved the well casing and the blowout preventer, which are considered critical pieces in the chain of events that led to the disaster on the rig.
The documents show that in March, after several weeks of problems on the rig, BP was struggling with a loss of “well control.” And as far back as 11 months ago, it was concerned about the well casing and the blowout preventer.
On June 22, for example, BP engineers expressed concerns that the metal casing the company wanted to use might collapse under high pressure.
“This would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Mark E. Hafle, a senior drilling engineer at BP, warned in an internal report. “However, I have seen it happen so know it can occur.”
Of course, there’s a good case to be made that being prepared for the worst case scenario is probably a good idea, especially when you’re dealing with the possibility of a catastrophic disaster.
The most disturbing revelations, though, involve the blowout preventer, the one piece of equipment that was supposed to stop a disaster like this from happening in the first place:
The documents show that in March, after problems on the rig that included drilling mud falling into the formation, sudden gas releases known as “kicks” and a pipe falling into the well, BP officials informed federal regulators that they were struggling with a loss of “well control.”
On at least three occasions, BP records indicate, the blowout preventer was leaking fluid, which the manufacturer of the device has said limits its ability to operate properly.
“The most important thing at a time like this is to stop everything and get the operation under control,” said Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas, Austin, offering his assessment about the documents.
He added that he was surprised that regulators and company officials did not commence a review of whether drilling should continue after the well was brought under control.
After informing regulators of their struggles, company officials asked for permission to delay their federally mandated test of the blowout preventer, which is supposed to occur every two weeks, until the problems were resolved, BP documents say.
At first, the minerals agency declined.
“Sorry, we cannot grant a departure on the B.O.P. test further than when you get the well under control,” wrote Frank Patton, a minerals agency official. But BP officials pressed harder, citing “major concerns” about doing the test the next day. And by 10:58 p.m., David Trocquet, another M.M.S. official, acquiesced.
“After further consideration,” Mr. Trocquet wrote, “an extension is approved to delay the B.O.P. test until the lower cement plug is set.”
When the blowout preventer was eventually tested again, it was tested at a lower pressure — 6,500 pounds per square inch — than the 10,000-pounds-per-square-inch tests used on the device before the delay. It tested at this lower pressure until the explosion.
Some of these revelations were also covered in a 60 Minutes piece two weeks ago (Part One and Part Two) when they interviewed Mike Williams, one of the only survivors from the Deepwater Horizon, who revealed that there had been problems with the blowout preventer weeks before the explosion and that BP officials on the rig had chosen to proceed ahead with drilling rather than investigating what could have been a potentially huge safety problem.
Things are not looking very good for BP right now.