BP oil disaster was avoidable, commission staff says


WASHINGTON – Staffers for the National Oil Spill Commission said today that the BP disaster was avoidable if the company and its contractors deployed better management and simply communicated with each other about potential risks.

Poor communication between BP and Transocean and Halliburton deprived otherwise capable personnel of information necessary to recognize and address risks, the staff said. The three companies, the staff said, often dealt with problems without communicating either the problems or their actions to their well partners.

Working in isolation deprived the partners of having all the information they needed to make key decisions prior to the rig explosion on April 20.

“That these three companies screwed up like this bothers me,” said Richard Sears, the senior science and engineering advisor for the commission who added that his concern is multiplied because he has personally worked on major drilling projects.

Among the communications failures, Sears said, was the failure to disclose to all three companies working on the Macondo well disturbing pressure readings before the blowout, as well as problems with the cementing job. Not only did they not always share information with each other, Sears said, but they failed to consult with experts, who might have recommended steps to alleviate the risks that led to the disaster.

William Reilly, the commission co-chair, called the management and communications failures of the three companies troubling.

“The series of decisions that doomed Macondo evidenced a failure of management and good management could have avoided a catastrophe,” Reilly said.

Today is the first of two days of deliberations with staff on recommendations that are likely to form the basis of the commission’s recommendations, due out on January 11.

Nancy Kete, senior advisor on corporate safety and risk management for the commission, said that while BP management is improving, the company has a history of cost-cutting and resulting problems across all of its business segments over many years.

BP safety lapses appear to be chronic and its systems safety engineering and safety culture still needs improvement, she said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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