The MasterBlog: Did BP Keep Drilling Even Though It Had Lost Control of the Oil Well Much Earlier?
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Did BP Keep Drilling Even Though It Had Lost Control of the Oil Well Much Earlier?

The evidence keeps mounting against BP in the Macondo well explosion. The
post below is long but thorough!

Compiled by Washington's Blog <> from the NY
Times, Bloomberg, LA Times, and the Times of London.

The New York Times noted
> yesterday:
Even though it was more than a month before the explosion, the [Deepwater
Horizon] rig's safety audit was conducted against the backdrop of what seems
to have been a losing battle to control the well.
On the March visit, Lloyd's investigators reported "a high degree of focus
and activity relating to well control issues," adding that "specialists were
aboard the rig to conduct subsea explosions to help alleviate these well
control issues."
As I pointed out
> last month:
The Deepwater Horizon blew up on April 20th, and sank a couple of days
later. BP has been criticized for failing to report on the seriousness of
the blow out for several weeks.
However, as a whistleblower previously told
<> 60
Minutes, there was an accident at the rig a month or more prior to the April
20th explosion:
[Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on the Deepwater Horizon,
and one of the last workers to leave the doomed rig] ... says going faster
caused the bottom of the well to split open, swallowing tools and that
drilling fluid called "mud."
"We actually got stuck. And we got stuck so bad we had to send tools down
into the drill pipe and sever the pipe," Williams explained.
That well was abandoned and Deepwater Horizon had to drill a new route to
the oil. It cost BP more than two weeks and millions of dollars.
As Bloomberg reports
> today, problems at the
well actually started in February:
BP Plc was struggling to seal cracks in its Macondo well as far back as
February, more than two months before an explosion killed 11 and spewed oil
into the Gulf of Mexico.
It took 10 days to plug the first cracks, according to reports BP filed with
the Minerals Management Service that were later delivered to congressional
investigators. Cracks in the surrounding rock continued to complicate the
drilling operation during the ensuing weeks. Left unsealed, they can allow
explosive natural gas to rush up the shaft.
"Once they realized they had oil down there, all the decisions they made
were designed to get that oil at the lowest cost," said Peter Galvin of the
Center for Biological Diversity, which has been working with congressional
investigators probing the disaster. "It's been a doomed voyage from the
On Feb. 13, BP told the minerals service it was trying to seal cracks in the
well about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, drilling
documents obtained by Bloomberg show. Investigators are still trying to
determine whether the fissures played a role in the disaster.
The company attempted a "cement squeeze," which involves pumping cement to
seal the fissures, according to a well activity report. Over the following
week the company made repeated attempts to plug cracks that were draining
expensive drilling fluid, known as "mud," into the surrounding rocks.
BP used three different substances to plug the holes before succeeding, the
documents show.
"Most of the time you do a squeeze and then let it dry and you're done,"
said John Wang, an assistant professor of petroleum and natural gas
engineering at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania. "It dries within
a few hours."
Repeated squeeze attempts are unusual and may indicate rig workers are using
the wrong kind of cement, Wang said.
In other words, the well started losing integrity in February, and may have
never been permanently stabilized. If cracks in the well were never properly
sealed, then the well may have been unstable starting in February and
continuing until the April 20 explosion. (There is substantial evidence
> that there are cracks in the well now.)
Bloomberg continues:
In early March, BP told the minerals agency the company was having trouble
maintaining control of surging natural gas, according to e-mails released
May 30 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating
the spill.
While gas surges are common in oil drilling, companies have abandoned wells
if they determine the risk is too high.
On March 10, BP executive Scherie Douglas e-mailed Frank Patton, the mineral
service's drilling engineer for the New Orleans district, telling him: "We'
re in the midst of a well control situation."
The incident was a "showstopper," said Robert Bea, an engineering professor
at the University of California, Berkeley, who has consulted with the
Interior Department on offshore drilling safety. "They damn near blew up the
And the wives of oil rig workers killed in the blast testified
> that their husbands reported that the rig had problems
controlling well pressure weeks before explosion.
In other words, not only is it possible that the well casing was somewhat
unstable for months before the blow out, but BP may have ignored standard
drilling practices by failing to abandon the well when the natural gas began
surging too violently.
Sure, the rig didn't actually catch fire and sink until April, but cracks in
the well and dangerous natural gas surges may mean that BP never fully had
control of the well.
I'm not the only one asking such questions. It is worth re-reading the
following passage from the Bloomberg article quoted above:
On Feb. 13, BP told the minerals service it was trying to seal cracks in the
well ... drilling documents obtained by Bloomberg show. Investigators are
still trying to determine whether the fissures played a role in the
Damaged Blowout Preventer
Whether or not BP had lost control of the well earlier, it was confirmed
yesterday that BP had damaged its key piece of safety equipment - the
blowout preventer - earlier, yet kept drilling.
The Los Angeles Times reported
> Monday:
BP officials knew about a problem on a crucial well safety device at least
three months before the catastrophic April 20 explosion in the Gulf of
Mexico but failed to repair it, according to testimony Tuesday from the
company's well manager.
Ronald Sepulvado testified that he was aware of a leak on a control pod atop
the well's blowout preventer and notified his supervisor in Houston about
the problem, which Sepulvado didn't consider crucial. The 450-ton hydraulic
device, designed to prevent gas or oil from blasting out of the drill hole,
failed during the disaster, which killed 11 men on the Deepwater Horizon rig
and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Investigators said BP did not disclose the matter to the appropriate federal
agency and failed to suspend drilling operations until the problem was
resolved, as required by law.
The New York Times adds
> the following details:
Federal investigators said Tuesday at a panel that continuing to drill
despite problems related to the blowout preventer might have been a
violation of federal regulations that require a work stoppage if the
equipment is found not to work properly.
While the equipment report says the device's control panels were in fair
condition, it also cites a range of problems, including a leaking door seal,
a diaphragm on the purge air pump needing replacement and several
error-response messages.
The device's annulars, which are large valves used to control wellbore
fluids, also encountered "extraordinary difficulties" surrounding their
maintenance, the report said.
And as I pointed out
> in May:
Several weeks before the Gulf oil explosion, a key piece of safety equipment
- the blowout preventer - was damaged.
As the Times of London reports
ece> :
[Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on the Deepwater Horizon,
and one of the last workers to leave the doomed rig] claimed that the
blowout preventer was then damaged when a crewman accidentally moved a
joystick, applying hundreds of thousands of pounds of force. Pieces of
rubber were found in the drilling fluid, which he said implied damage to a
crucial seal. But a supervisor declared the find to be "not a big deal", Mr
Williams alleged.
UC Berkeley engineering professor Bob Bea told 60 Minutes that a damaged
blowout preventer not only may lead to a catastrophic accident like the Gulf
oil spill, but leads to inaccurate pressure readings, so that the well
operator doesn't know the real situation, and cannot keep the rig safe.
There are many other examples of criminal negligence by BP, Halliburton and
Transocean as well. See
> this,
> this,
> this,
> this,
<> this,
> this,
<> this,
> this,
<> this,
appen> this,
berg> this, <> this,
> this,
> this,
> this,
UEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDYnBiZWdpbnNub3Zl> this and
> this.

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