Last week’s release of a U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Interior Department investigative report into last year’s BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion was more exhaustive than previous probes, in part, because the agencies were the only ones able to interview rig workers who survived the blast that killed 11 of their colleagues.
The 212 pages of findings concluded much of the same results of the presidential commission and other congressional reviews: BP was ultimately responsible for the disaster that resulted in the worst oil leak in the nation’s history.
But the latest investigation provided more pinpoint detail than other panels. The commission noted that the rig operation, which was called the Macondo well, was running days behind schedule and costing BP millions.
The latest report, however, determined that the company was a month and a half behind in its desire to move the rig to another site, costing BP $58 million. The report thus concluded that those costs trumped rig safety.
“BP’s cost- or time-saving decisions without considering contingencies and mitigation were contributing causes to the Macondo blowout,” the panel found.
Keith Jones, a Baton Rouge lawyer who lost his 28-year-old son, Gordon, on the rig said he found interesting a section of the report that showed that BP rewarded employees for saving money. Though a similar reward was offered for safety ideas, nobody earned it.
“It was always, always, always about the money, the bottom line for BP,” Jones said. “They’re in the business to make money as fast as they can and it’s as ancient as it comes, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
Past reviews have all noted that the failure to properly put cement into the pipeline resulted in the failure to block hydrocarbons from reaching the surface of the rig and causing the explosion.
BP had blamed the engineering company Halliburton in charge of the cementing process. The report, however, determined that it was BP that took actions that resulted in the faulty cement job before the April 20, 2010, blast.
The company circumvented procedures that were practiced industrywide, the report found.
“In the days leading up to April 20, BP made a series of decisions that complicated cementing
operations, added incremental risk and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the job,” the report stated.
Failures of communication also compounded the chaos that resulted in an 87-day gusher of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Rig operators were disconnected with engineers in Houston, who were supposed to be monitoring the situation, according to the report.
Those rig workers missed an important warning, what is known as a “kick” in the pipeline, that should have alerted them to a problem, the report found. Even when the operation showed signs of failing, rig workers reacted too slowly in shutting the operation down, according to the report.
The result left workers most in danger without critical information about what was happening, the panel concluded. Last April, the Coast Guard found that the rig owner, Transocean, had “serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture,” which the company has denied.
Collectively, all three companies violated seven federal regulations that ranged from the inability to control the well to BP and Transocean’s failure to inspect the blowout preventer, a subsurface stack that should’ve blocked the hydrocarbon surge to the rig.
It was Transocean, the report said, that was responsible for conducting safe operations and for protecting personnel onboard.
Though those responsible for the report talked to survivors, they were unable to hear testimony from BP engineer Mark Hafle, who was criticized in the report for several of the failures of the operation ranging from not resolving the anomalies to choosing not to run a cement log test.
Hafle refused to testify to the panel, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
The findings of the 16-month probe are now expected to kickstart the development of more stringent drilling regulations while also playing a big factor in the legal ramifications of the disaster, from civil suits against the companies to the U.S. Justice Department probe into possible criminal wrongdoing.
Gerard Shields is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is GerardShields@theadvocate.com.