Majority of blame for Gulf oil spill lies with BP, two US agencies find
The US agencies' exhaustive report on the Gulf oil spill said complacency and cost-cutting led BP to make a series of decisions that complicated operations and added risk before the rig exploded.
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The report, which goes furthest in assigning blame to BP, is significant because it is the most exhaustive to date on the circumstances that caused the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The blast resulted in 11 deaths and led to the release of 4.9 million barrels, or 206 million gallons, of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, for weeks afterward.
Common themes in the report are complacency and cost-cutting measures. Lending credibility to its findings is the fact it was produced by the two federal agencies tasked with regulating and enforcing offshore oil drilling in the Gulf: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the US Coast Guard (USCG).
Much of the two-volume, 505-page report follows in the footsteps of an earlier report released in January by a presidential commission assigned to investigate the incident, plus internal reports published separately by BP and rig owner Transocean, as well as others produced by independent groups of environmentalists and university scientists studying the spill.
But the BOEMRE/USCG report is the most expansive in detailing how BP, more than Transocean and Halliburton, the BP contractor responsible for conducting the cement job, violated federal regulations for offshore drilling.
The report said the complacency and cost-cutting led BP to make “a series of decisions that complicated cementing operations, added incremental risk, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the cement job” that led to the explosion at the Macondo well site.
Whereas the presidential commission’s report outlined several factors that elevated the risk of a blowout and was more evenhanded in assessing blame among the companies involved, this new report is more meticulous in its narrative, charting 35 steps that caused the accident, the majority of which were assigned to BP.
“This is a bigger report in many ways,” says Tom Bergin, a London-based reporter for Reuters who wrote “Spills & Spin: The Inside Story of BP” (Random House). “It looks into the issues with more detail. It should illuminate more than confuse.”
Among the 35 factors:
• BP and Halliburton failed to perform the casing cement job in accordance with industry recommendations, a factor that contributed to the blowout of the well.
• BP neglected to analyze the risks associated with the cement production of the Macondo well days before the accident.
• The rig crew’s failure to launch the system’s emergency shutdown device until after hydrocarbons had bypassed the blowout preventer, the containment system designed to contain the well rupture.
The report quotes email correspondence as well as testimony from BP personnel to paint a picture of a Macondo well operation that suffered from last-minute company restructuring and procedural changes. These created a high level of uncertainty about the team’s ability to handle a well that, as early as October 2009, is described as unstable after experiencing a series of “kicks” – a severe reaction that happens following an unplanned influx of gas or fluids in the well.