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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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BP failed to conduct a formal investigation to determine the cause of the kicks, according to the report. Among those quoted is John Guide, a BP well team leader, who, in an email dated April 15, five days before the explosion, tells his superior his team is “flying by the seat of our pants” and that the restructuring “is driving chaos” between the concerns of the engineers and the goals of operational management.

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“With the separation of engineering and operations I do not know what I can and can’t do. The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner,” Mr. Guide wrote.

Overall, the report describes BP leaders onsite as primarily concerned about cost overruns and “incurring additional costs that they deemed unnecessary.”

“On the operating front, they were no longer given the support and resources to implement the guidelines that could and likely would have prevented the disaster,” says Robert Bea, a professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkley who organized an independent investigation of the spill, which reported its findings to Congress.

Adds Professor Bea: “Unfortunately they were dealing with a beast and I think they didn’t understand that until it was too late. And that beast was the Macondo reservoir. So when it got down to the point where [operations] were tricky, their previous experience was not adequate to address the complexities of the drilling. That exploited multiple weaknesses that were allowed to flourish.”

The report strikes a self-reflective tone in its criticism of the Mineral Management Service (MMS), the beleaguered regulatory agency that was shuttered in June 2010 following criticism related to the oil spill. “Stronger and more comprehensive federal regulations might have reduced the likelihood” of the blowout, reads the report.

MMS was restructured and renamed as BOERME last year. However, many oil and gas industry analysts complain that the change is only cosmetic and the revamped agency is too close to its predecessor, a dynamic William Reilly, a chairman of the presidential commission, called “embarrassing” earlier this year. Critics say increased resources are needed to hire new blood, especially for qualified inspectors and administrators.

“The same people inside BOERME are the same people inside MMS. That ingrained culture is still the same culture. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” Bea says.

A BP spokesman contacted for this story referred to a statement the company issued Wednesday that said the accident “was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple parties, including Transocean and Halliburton.… We continue to encourage other parties to acknowledge their roles in the accident.”

In spreading the blame, BP’s message remains “consistent,” says Reuters’ Mr. Bergin.

“It was quite clear from the onset that pretty much most of the companies involved were not going to brag about their involvement in this situation,” he says. “But the question has always been where is the balance of blame, and this report today puts the balance of blame firmly on BP.”

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