Digging Deeper on Macondo


The commission appointed by President Obama to plumb the causes of the blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last year presented its findings a month ago. The seven-member panel essentially concluded that the accident and subsequent oil spill were the result of a cascade of management failures, regulatory oversights, missed signals and time-saving shortcuts that combined to take 11 lives and produce the worst offshore oil release in the nation’s history.

On Thursday, the panel released an even more detailed accounting of the immediate causes of the failure of the well that repeats the conclusions of the earlier report but adds new detail to the hours and minutes immediately preceding the deadly catastrophe. The report (see http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/chief-counsels-report), compiled by the commission’s chief counsel, Fred Bartlit Jr. and a staff of lawyers and engineers, identifies numerous crucial mistakes and failures to act by the three main companies involved in the well, BP, Halliburton and Transocean.

For example, BP had previous warning of quality lapses at Halliburton, which was responsible for the cement job that should have kept the oil and gas contained within the well bore. The new report also cites an engineering reorganization at BP in early 2010 that led to delays and distractions aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Mr. Bartlit’s team also found that BP’s well site leaders had accepted an implausible explanation for a failed pressure test in the well; when that explanation was forwarded to Pat O’Bryan, BP’s vice president responsible for drilling and well completions, he responded with the following e-mail:





The report notes that Mr. O’Bryan was on the rig during the crucial test but was not asked about its implications. “If anyone had consulted him or any other shore-based engineer, the blowout might never have happened,” the report concludes.

The commission’s co-chairmen, the former Florida Senator Bob Graham and William K. Reilly, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that Thursday’s study was the most comprehensive accounting yet of the events leading up to the explosion.

“In clear, precise and unflinching detail,” Mr. Graham and Mr. Reilly said in a statement, “this report lays out the confusion, lack of communication, disorganization and inattention to crucial safety issues and test results that led to the deaths of 11 men and the largest offshore oil spill in our nation’s history.”

Mr. Bartlit said he had reluctantly concluded that the Deepwater Horizon accident was a preventable disaster that could be repeated without a major overhaul of industry drilling practices and government oversight.

“Poor decisions by management were the real cause,” he said in a statement accompanying the release of his report. “Our team of investigators unearthed significant information about the blowout and greatly advanced our understanding of this tragedy. We are putting forward this additional detailed report in the hope that the public, industry and government officials will learn from it, and future disasters might be prevented.”

In a statement, a BP spokesman emphasized on Thursday that the company had “fully cooperated” with the commission’s inquiry and other investigations and “made every effort to understand the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident to help prevent similar events from occurring in the future,” conducting its own inquiry into the disaster as well.

“The findings of the presidential commission – particularly that the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple parties – are largely consistent with those contained in the BP internal investigation report,” said the spokesman, Scott Dean.

“BP has already incorporated the findings of these reports into its current and future plans and has made significant management and organizational changes to further enhance the company’s safety and risk management processes going forward,” he said. “This includes undertaking a comprehensive review of the way BP supervises its contractors.”

The report from the presidential commission’s chief counsel has some interesting accompaniments. For instance, here’s a video/graphic overview of the Macondo well’s technology and design (see http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/chief-counsel/video/C21462-330_CCR_Macondo_Well) another on the blowout stack (see http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/chief-counsel/video/C21462-265_CCR_BOP_Stack).

And here’s a video that shows how the oil entered the well bore and got past the cement (see http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/chief-counsel/video/C21462-298_CCR_Cement_Job_Sequence).

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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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