BP's Deepwater Horizon Accident Report Disperses Blame, Glosses Over Big Questions


BP has just released it's report on the events leading up to the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and subsequent record-breaking oil spill. As was expected, BP attempts to spread blame across all the companies involved and says "a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgements, engineering design, operation implementation and team interface" by "multiple companies and work teams" was responsible. Has BP established a new position at the company? Vice President of Stating the Patently Obvious Whilst Hiding Behind Extra Words?

I shouldn't be so glib, I know. It was no doubt far too much to expect one gigantic mea culpa, mea maxima culpa statement, even if that's no doubt what everyone wants to hear. Perhaps even less likely that BP might take the lead in the oil industry and not continue exploration and drilling at such extreme depths.

Hayward Says It Started With A 'Bad Cement Job'
But enough, here's the official BP outline of those complex and interlinked series of events leading up to the biggest oil spill in US history and the second largest in the world. (Compare them to what New Orleans Times-Picayune report David Hammer found to be the six crucial errors leading up to the spill.)

Via BP's press release:

  • The cement and shoe track barriers - and in particular the cement slurry that was used - at the bottom of the Macondo well failed to contain hydrocarbons within the reservoir, as they were designed to do, and allowed gas and liquids to flow up the production casing;
  • The results of the negative pressure test were incorrectly accepted by BP and Transocean, although well integrity had not been established;
  • Over a 40-minute period, the Transocean rig crew failed to recognise and act on the influx of hydrocarbons into the well until the hydrocarbons were in the riser and rapidly flowing to the surface;
  • After the well-flow reached the rig it was routed to a mud-gas separator, causing gas to be vented directly on to the rig rather than being diverted overboard;
  • The flow of gas into the engine rooms through the ventilation system created a potential for ignition which the rig's fire and gas system did not prevent;
  • Even after explosion and fire had disabled its crew-operated controls, the rig's blow-out preventer on the sea-bed should have activated automatically to seal the well. But it failed to operate, probably because critical components were not working.

Outgoing BP exec Tony Hayward, exhibiting slightly better turn of phrase than the characteristic foot-in-mouth syndrome exhibited while oil was still flowing into the Gulf, said,

To put it simply, there was a bad cement job and a failure of the shoe track barrier at the bottom of the well, which let hydrocarbons from the reservoir into the production casing. The negative pressure test was accepted when it should have not been; there were failures in well control procedures and in the blow-out preventer; and the rig's fire and gas system did not prevent ignition.

And Bob's your uncle...

Incoming BP exec Bob Dudley reminded everyone that it's always been BP's contention that responsibility for the disaster was shared between BP, Transocean and Halliburton, noting, "This report makes that conclusion even clearer, presenting a detailed analysis of the facts and recommendations for improvement both for BP and the other parties involved. We have accepted all the recommendations and are examining how best to implement them across our drilling operations worldwide."

No doubt there's going to be lots of parsing of the exact events detailed in the report, as well as the recommendations for company-wide change to prevent such a disaster happening again. Not to mention the inevitable discrepancies between this report and where the US government analysis says blame should fall.

Should you want to delve into that yourself, here's the executive summary of the report, the full report, and the appendices plus presentation slides.

Report Demolishes Notion That Safety Comes First For Oil Industry
The Guardian has a blow-by-blow take on the BP press conference plus real-time reaction quotes from their reporters, as well as other observers. The one quote that really hits home, and what we all need to consider seriously, comes from Terry Macalister:

What is really shocking about this report is the catalogue of errors - both human and mechanical. They demolish once and for all the oil industry's much quoted mantra that "safety always comes first." It may come first in the board room but it does not down at the wellhead where the real dangers are faced.

It is worth remembering that BP, its rig operator Transocean and the main well contractor Halliburton are the blue chip companies in the wider oil and gas sector. If the shoddy work practices highlighted here are what the best-in-class do, then what is happening in the lower reaches of this industry?

Remember, there is no clean oil company, only slightly less dirty.

Transitioning Off Oil Only Prudent Course of Action
The bigger question, which Greenpeace's Jim Footner rightly raises, is that there simply isn't the slightest hesitation or mention of a hint of a possibility that perhaps this sort of exploration shouldn't be done. That when the consequences of failure are so grave, perhaps the prudent thing to do is to stop altogether.

Footner adds,

The real problem is our addiction to oil, which is pushing companies like BP to put lives and the environment at risk. The age of oil is coming to an end and companies like BP will be left behind unless they begin to adapt now. The time has come to move beyond oil and invest in clean energy.

Indeed, that's been the message of TreeHugger from the start of all this, more practically detailed in our Minus Oil series. But unfortunately, BP, as well as the oil industry more broadly, appears to be more interested in wringing every last bit of oil from the planet, regardless of social and environmental cost, that making significant investments in alternatives.

Like this? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
More on the BP Oil Spill:
Must See Footage of BP Oil Spill Shows 'The Gulf Bleeding' (Video)
BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events
Gulf Oil Plume Gone, Eaten By Newly Discovered Microbes
Today's Oil Spill Nonsense: Overt Media Censorship, Plus: BP Nixes Peat Moss to Protect Profits

Tags: Energy | Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill | Pollution