Demise of the Blowout Preventer: Faulty Design Casts Doubt on All Other Devices in Use Around Globe


The blowout preventer – a mechanism that should have stopped oil from gushing out of BP’s crippled Macondo well – failed due to a “faulty” design and a bent pipe. That is the conclusion of the firm hired by the federal government to examine the device.

The finding is good news for BP, because it shifts some blame to the equipment, but it’s terrible news for the oil industry at large. The faulty design casts doubt on the functionality of all those other (apparently poorly named) blowout preventers in use around the globe.

The 551-page report by the Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas puts blame on the blowout preventer’s “blind shear rams,” which are supposed to pinch a well shut in an emergency by literally shearing through the well’s drill pipe. The report asserts that the shear rams couldn’t do their job because the drill pipe had buckled, bowed and become stuck.

You can bet that these findings are being celebrated by BP executives. The blowout preventer was built by Cameron International and maintained by Transocean Ltd. The report also suggests that some Transocean work may have contributed to the eventual failure. The companies are already in spin mode, saying they were working up to “industry standards,” but clearly they are on the defensive.

The AP quotes a University of Alabama civil engineering professor who sums up the industry’s next issue: “This is the first time in all of this that there has been a clear design flaw in the blowout preventer cited…my reaction is, ‘Holy smokes, every set of blind shear rams out there may have this problem.’”

The AP story via the Washington Post is here:

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1 comment

  • BP’s negligent decisions caused the blow out. No negligent decisions, no blow out, no BOPs failure. DUH! Simple.
    Blow Out Preventer is a misnomer as they DO NOT prevent blow outs. It would be like calling a “fire extinguisher” a “fire preventer”. The blow out was already happening BEFORE the BOPs were activated as is the design as a Blow out controller.
    The correct way to prevent blow outs is good engineering and proper decision making based of what actions are safest for the rig personel and the well rather what is quickest to meet deadlines and cut cost.
    BP made at least 5 documented negligent decision s causing the blow out.

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