Growing consensus on oil spill points mostly to BP


Like other independent investigators examining the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the National Academy of Engineering is pointing fingers mostly at BP – joining the emerging consensus that the oil giant’s errors greatly contributed to the explosion and subsequent oil spill.

In an interim report, prepared jointly with the National Research Council, members of the academy said BP failed to properly assess risks and chose less expensive processes and equipment that led to the disaster.

The academy is hardly the first one to point to those mistakes. Its report did not identify which specific errors may have caused the explosion at the rig. But the engineers placed the responsibility for many of the missteps squarely on BP’s shoulders.

They cited critical errors by BP, including changing key supervisors days before critical well procedures, choosing to line the well with fewer barriers against natural gas seepage and fewer safety devices than recommended, declining important tests that could have warned of impending danger and removing heavy drilling mud prematurely.

The most critical error, according to members of the academy, was the misinterpretation of key tests of the well’s pressure just hours before the April 20 explosion. It’s unclear whether BP or employees or rig owner Transocean made the final decision to accept the flawed results as successful. But the scientists questioned why BP personnel onshore, who had more expertise, did not review the test results.

BP said the academy’s report was preliminary and that it failed to take into account recent findings by the presidential Oil Spill Commission that the cement mix Halliburton used to seal the well was unstable.

Other contractors may have played a role in the disaster, and the different probes emerging have mentioned that.

But more and more it’s clear that BP’s decisions at key junctures in the drilling process peeled away layers of safety and compounded the risk of a disaster. Testimony from BP employees and the company’s internal documents have revealed the company took some of the most crucial shortcuts in part to save money, essentially putting costs over safety.

The academy’s report noted that John Guide, BP’s top manager at the rig, was responsible for both the costs and the schedule of work and that led to costs savings that increased risks.

The report also said that numerous decisions, by BP and other contractors, to move forward in the process “despite indications of hazard … suggest an insufficient consideration of risk and a lack of operating discipline.”

So much for BP’s self-proclaimed “culture of safety.”

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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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