May 28, 2010 6:23 PM by Melissa Canone
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The last-ditch safety equipment that
failed to stop what has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history
was working properly in the days before the explosion, the top
executive of the company that owns the equipment said Friday.
The equipment, known as a blowout preventer, or BOP, failed to
stop the explosion on the Transocean rig drilling an exploratory
well in the Gulf of Mexico for BP on April 20.
"It is clear that the BOP was unable to shut off the well,"
Steven Newman, president and CEO of Transocean, told analysts
Friday on a conference call. "Until we recover the BOP we won't
know what debris is in it or what type of damage may have
The BOPs, sometimes as big as a double-decker bus and weighing
up to 640,000 pounds, guard the mouth of wells. They act as the
last defense to choke off unintended releases, slamming a gushing
pipe with up to 1 million pounds of force.
"It is also clear that the drilling crew had very little if any
time to react," Newman said. "The initial indications of trouble
and the subsequent explosions were almost simultaneously."
While the precise cause of the explosion has yet to be
determined, investigators are focusing on the blowout preventer on
the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by BP PLC as one likely
Newman said the BOP was last tested on April 17.
Newman said he has been asked about one of the BOP's battery
systems, leaks in the hydraulic system and changes made in the BOP
at BP's request in 2005.
"But none of those questions have really caused me any concern
with respect to the basic fundamental capability of the BOP," he
In an appearance before a U.S. Senate committee on May 11,
Newman said the explosion was caused by a failure of drilling
cementing, casing or perhaps both. He dismissed suggestions that
the BOP may have been a cause.
Newman said Transocean, based in Zug, Switzerland, has received
$560 million in insurance proceeds for the rig. The $560 million
was in line with the fair market value of the rig when the
insurance policy was renewed last May.
He also said the company, the world's largest offshore drilling
contractor, will continue with its plan to distribute $1 billion in
dividends to shareholders this year. He said payment of the
dividend will not hurt the company's ability to meet its legal
obligations stemming from the spill.
He said he is not sure yet how the decision to halt new
deepwater oil exploration announced on Thursday by President Barack
Obama will affect the company.
"I don't think anybody has a clear understanding what the
president's comments yesterday really mean with respect to the
application and the implementation of a suspension of drilling
The company has two drilling rigs at the site of the explosion
drilling relief wells. One has been removed from the area while BP
is conducting its "top kill" effort to plug the well.