The blame game: Who’s saying what at the oil spill hearing

Today’s Senate hearing into the Deepwater Horizon disaster will hear testimonies from three of the key companies involved in the well, a regulator, and an engineer.  Though, all point out that it’s too early to know how the accident occurred, the three companies are already homing in on specific issues they believe are most important.

Essentially, the testimonies go something like this:

  • BP: Why did the BOP fail?
  • Transocean: Were there problems with the cementing and casings?
  • Halliburton: We did what BP asked us to
  • The regulator: Better testing standards needed for shear ram, cementing and other factors
  • The academic: Why did multiple blowout barriers fail, and was there human error?

BP: Why did the BOP fail? (Full statement)

Americas chairman and president Lamar McKay says the questions are:

  • What caused the explosion and fire?
  • And why did the blowout preventer fail?

And adds later: “Transocean’s blowout preventer failed to operate.”

Transocean: Were there problems with the cementing and casings? (Full statement)

Chief executive Steven Newman however says blaming the blowout preventer “makes no sense” because BOPs are only relied upon prior to the cementing being completed. The explosion, he said, was unusual in that it took place after the well had effectively been finished and the well had been sealed with cement.

He says the questions are:

What caused that catastrophic, sudden and violent failure? Was the well
properly designed? Was the well properly cemented? Were there problems with
the well casing? Were all appropriate tests run on the cement and casings?

Halliburton: We did what BP asked us to (Full statement)

Halliburton provided cementing and other services at the well. Chief safety and environment officer Tim Probert  didn’t have questions per se, but stresses the role of the operator (BP) in hiring subcontractors and specifying how the well is constructed, says:

Halliburton is confident that the cementing work on the Mississippi Canyon 252 well was completed in accordance with the requirements of the well owner’s well construction plan.

The regulator: Better testing standards for shear ram and cementing (Full statement)

Elmer P. Danenberger III, a recently retired chief of offshore regulatory programmes at the MMS, did not list questions, either.

He said the accident was not due to a lack of an acoustic backup system for the blowout preventer, and defended the decision to lessen BOP test requirements to every 14 days from every seven days. However he did suggest international standards for testing shear rams, which cut through pipes to secure wells in an emergency situation, and for cementing, which he pointed out had been a focus of the enquiries into the Montara deepwater disaster which occurred off Australia last year. He also suggested other regulatory responses, such as reviewing BOP standards, streamlining the regulatory regime, and faciliating a more prompt review of rules.

The academic: Why did multiple blowout barriers fail, and was there human error? (Full statement)

Dr F. E. Beck, a practicing petroleum engineer and Associate Professor of Petroleum
Engineering at Texas A&M University,  took a more holistic approach, saying there are multiple barriers to blowouts, so either they all failed, or there was an element of human error:

If a barrier failed, we must determine when and how it was tested, and when and how it failed; if a barrier was removed, we must ask why it was removed and determine if another barrier was put in place and tested in proper sequence.

Related links:

Our man on the oil rig explains (almost) all - FT Energy Source
BP’s oil spill fight plagued by methane hydrates, a hazard of deep water - FT Energy Source

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