Deepwater Horizon Blowout Gear Was Overdue for Maintenance


April 6 (Bloomberg) – The blowout preventer that failed on a BP Plc well last year, leading to the worst U.S. offshore oil spill, was four years overdue for maintenance under driller Transocean Ltd.’s internal guidelines, a U.S. regulator said.

The Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer hadn’t been disassembled and refurbished since the rig was commissioned in 2001, Jason Mathews of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said today during an investigative hearing in Metairie, Louisiana.

Under Transocean’s rules, the blowout preventer should have been overhauled no later than the summer of 2006, Mathews said. The preventer is a 300-ton stack of valves and pipes designed to stop an oil well from surging out of control.

The blowout preventer’s blades failed to sever and seal the pipe from BP’s Macondo well during the April 2010 disaster that killed 11 rig workers, sank the vessel and spewed enough crude into the sea to fill two supertankers, according to a study commissioned by a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department panel. Mathews is one of eight members of the panel.

The blowout preventer wasn’t in need of an overhaul, Michael Fry, a Transocean manager who oversees subsea equipment used on all of the company’s Gulf of Mexico rigs, told the panel.

“If it’s not found to be outside its operating tolerances, that piece of equipment stays in service,” Fry said in response to questioning by Mathews. “There’s not a reason to send it to the shop for a major overhaul if there’s nothing wrong with the equipment.”

Study Results

Fry testified today that if there had been any indications that the blowout preventer was defective, the senior Transocean manager aboard the Deepwater Horizon, Jimmy Harrell, would have halted drilling operations and called for help.

“If Jimmy thought there was anything wrong with the BOP, he would have shut it down,” Fry said.

A study of the blowout preventer, carried out by Det Norske Veritas, concluded that a lack of maintenance work wasn’t a factor in the failure of the blades to crimp the pipe. Cameron International Corp., based in Houston, made the blowout preventer used by the Deepwater Horizon.

Cameron fell $1.43, or 2.5 percent, to $55.30 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Transocean declined 44 cents to $80.55 and has dropped 12 percent since the April 20 blowout.

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