Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anatomy Of A Blow-Out: BP Made Fateful Decision

Tests showed blowout preventer was unsafe, inoperative

Though pressure tests showed an alarming imbalance between
the well head and the "kill" and "choke" lines that actuate
the blowout preventer, a British Petroleum executive ordered
all operations to resume on Earth Day aboard the Deepwater

Though accounts vary widely, it is clear that not much time
went by before the disaster claimed 11 lives and resulted
in the loss of the $435 million semi-submersible rig.

The decision caused natural gas to spew casing pipe, cement,
and mud out of the hole and the gas propelling it ignited in
a fireball that two days later sank the huge drilling rig in
water a mile deep.

Halliburton crews had just finished pumping cement into the
hole to prevent the natural gas from blowing the petroleum
well out.

A Cameron Iron Works blowout preventer that is designed to
use hydraulic rams to operate giant shears that cut off the
drill pipe and seal the hole failed to work because of a
previously detected hydraulic leak and furthermore because
the two adjunct lines, the "kill" and "choke" lines showed
zero pounds per square inch pressure while the pressure in
the main hole was a whopping 1,400 p.s.i.

The BP executive elected to proceed, even though a second
test showed the same results, according to Halliburton
executive Tim Probert.

Before a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy
Committee, James Dupree, BP senior vice president for the
Gulf of Mexico, said, "There was something happening in the
well bore that shouldn't be happening"

According to Representative Bart Stupak, (D-Mich), "The
blowout preventer apparently had a significant leak...This
leak was found in the hydraulic system that provides
emergency power to the shear rams, which are the devices
that are supposed to cut the drill pipe and seal the well."

Pressures should be the same on all three lines, Mr. Dupree
testified earlier.

Because of this, the blowout preventer could not function
because the two adjunct lines power the emergency system.

If they are filled with seawater, they merely equalize the
ambient pressure and do nothing to cause the hydraulic rams
to actuate.

Under the terms of an emergency plan filed with the
government, "BP, one of the largest oil companies, assured
Congress and the public that it could operate safely in deep
water and that a major oil spill was next to impossible,"
said Chairman Henry Waxman, (D-CA.).

"We now know those assurances were wrong."

Where did things go wrong?

Many are pointing to the terms of a controversial energy
plan worked out with petroleum producers by former
Halliburton World Services CEO and U.S. Vice President Dick

The Bush Administration refused to divulge the terms of the
energy plan for several years, eventually obtaining
injunctive protection from the U.S. Supreme Court to assure
its confidentiality.

Apparently, part of that energy plan calls for a
"categorical exclusion" to EPA requirements for
environmental analyses, an exemption disclosed by the Center
for Biological Diversity in a recent press release.

The organization has categorized this exemptive process as

It is unclear if they intend to litigate.

In any case, since its recent merger with its chief rival,
GlobalSantaFe, in an $18 billion deal, records maintained by
the U.S. Minerals Management Service has shown a marked

Of 33 such incidents, Transocean operations have accounted
for 24, or 73 percent. It owns fewer than half the Gulf of
Mexico rigs operating in more than 3,000 feet of water.

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