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Jun 14, 2010 9:41 PM by Chris Welty

BP Cut Corners in Days Before Blowout

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - BP made a series of money-saving shortcuts
and blunders that dramatically increased the danger of a
destructive oil spill in a well that an engineer ominously
described as a "nightmare" just six days before the blowout,
according to documents released Monday that provide new insight
into the causes of the disaster.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee released dozens of
internal documents that outline several problems on the deepsea rig
in the days and weeks before the April 20 explosion that set in
motion the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Investigators found that BP was badly behind schedule on the
project and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars with each
passing day, and responded by cutting corners in the well design,
cementing and drilling mud efforts and the installation of key
safety devices.
"Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that
increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or
expense. If this is what happened, BP's carelessness and
complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its
inhabitants, and the workers on the rig," said Democratic Reps.
Henry A. Waxman and Bart Stupak.
The missteps emerged on the same day that President Barack Obama
made his fourth visit to the Gulf, where he sought to assure
beleaguered residents that the government will "leave the Gulf
Coast in better shape than it was before."
Obama's two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida
represents his latest attempt to persevere through a crisis that
has served as an important early test of his presidency. The visit
coincides with a national address from the Oval Office on Tuesday
night in which he will announce new steps to restore the Gulf Coast
ecosystem, according to a senior administration official who spoke
on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president's
announcements.
"I can't promise folks ... that the oil will be cleaned up
overnight. It will not be," Obama said after encouraging workers
in hard hats as they hosed off and repaired oil-blocking boom.
"It's going to be painful for a lot of folks."
But, he said, "things are going to return to normal."
The breached well has dumped as much as 114 million gallons of
oil into the Gulf under the worst-case scenario described by
scientists - a rate of more than 2 million a day. BP has collected
5.6 million gallons of oil through its latest containment cap on
top of the well, or about 630,000 gallons per day.
But BP believes it will see considerable improvements in the
next two weeks. The company said Monday that it could trap a
maximum of roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil each day by the end
of June as it deploys additional containment efforts, including a
system that could start burning off vast quantities as early as
Tuesday. That would more than triple the amount of oil it is
currently capturing - and be a huge relief for those trying to keep
it from hitting the shore.
"It would be a game changer," said Coast Guard Chief Petty
Officer Mark Boivin, deputy director for near-shore operations at a
command center in Mobile. He works with a team that coordinates the
efforts of roughly 80 skimming boats gathering oil off the coast.
Still, BP warned its containment efforts could face problems if
hoses or pipes clog and engineers struggle to run the complicated
collection system. Early efforts at the bottom of the Gulf failed
to capture oil.
Meanwhile, congressional investigators have identified several
mistakes by BP in the weeks leading up to the disaster as it fell
way behind on drilling the well.
BP started drilling in October, only to have the rig damaged by
Hurricane Ida in early November. The company switched to a new rig,
the Deepwater Horizon, and resumed drilling on Feb. 6. The rig was
43 days late for its next drilling location by the time it exploded
April 20, costing BP at least $500,000 each day it was overdue,
congressional documents show.
As BP found itself in a frantic race against time to get the job
done, engineers took several time-saving measures, according to
congressional investigators.
In the design of the well, the company apparently chose a
riskier option among two possibilities to provide a barrier to the
flow of gas in space surrounding steel tubes in the well, documents
and internal e-mails show. The decision saved BP $7 million to $10
million; the original cost estimate for the well was about $96
million.
In an e-mail, BP engineer Brian Morel told a fellow employee
that the company is likely to make last-minute changes in the well.
"We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick
response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been nightmare well
which has everyone all over the place," Morel wrote.
The e-mail chain culminated with the following message by
another worker: "This has been a crazy well for sure."
BP also apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor,
Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the
well. BP rejected Halliburton's recommendation to use 21
"centralizers" to make sure the casing ran down the center of the
well bore. Instead, BP used six centralizers.
In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision
explained: "It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like
this." Later that day, another official recognized the risks of
proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: "Who
cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine."
The lawmakers also said BP also decided against a nine- to
12-hour procedure known as a "cement bond log" that would have
tested the integrity of the cement. A team from Schlumberger, an
oil services firm, was on board the rig, but BP sent the team home
on a regularly scheduled helicopter flight the morning of April 20.
Less than 12 hours later, the rig exploded.
BP also failed to fully circulate drilling mud, a 12-hour
procedure that could have helped detect gas pockets that later shot
up the well and exploded on the drilling rig.
Asked about the details disclosed from the investigation, BP
spokesman Mark Proegler said the company's main focus right now is
on the response and stopping the flow of oil. "It would be
inappropriate for us to comment while an investigation is
ongoing," Proegler told AP. BP executives including CEO Tony
Hayward will be questioned by Congress on Thursday.
The letter from Waxman and Stupak noted at least five
questionable decisions BP made before the explosion, and was
supplemented by 61 footnotes and dozens of documents.
"The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed
a trade-off between cost and well safety," said Waxman and Stupak.
Waxman, D-Calif., chairs the energy panel while Stupak, D-Mich.,
heads a subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

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