Jan 6, 2011 5:55 AM by Nichole Larkey & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The last word on the largest offshore oil spill in history won't be the conclusion from a presidentially appointed commission finding that decisions intended to save time and money created an unreasonable amount of risk.
But it already has the companies involved with the blown-out well and Deepwater Horizon rig pointing fingers at each other
In a 48-page excerpt of its final report obtained Wednesday, the commission described systemic problems
within the offshore oil and gas industry and government regulators
who oversee it. It also said such a disaster could happen again
without significant reforms.
The full report is due to the president Jan. 11. But key questions will remain, namely: Why didn't a hulking piece of equipment that sat at the wellhead and was supposed to choke off
the flow of oil in the event of a blowout do its job? Federal investigators analyzing the blowout preventer at a NASA facility in
New Orleans aren't expected to finish until February.
The Justice Department continues its own investigation, as does a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,
Regulation and Enforcement panel.
The oil spill commission said poor decisions led to technical problems that contributed to the April 20 accident that killed 11 people and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from
BP's well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Inquiries by BP and Congress have found the same.
BP, Halliburton and Transocean, the three key companies involved
with the well and the rig that exploded, each made individual decisions that increased risks of a blowout but saved significant time or money.
But ultimately, the Deepwater Horizon disaster came down to a single failure, the panel says: management. When decisions were
made, no one was considering the risk they were taking.
In one example cited by the commission, a BP request to set an
"unusually deep cement plug" was approved by the then-Minerals
Management Service in 90 minutes. That decision is one of the nine
technical and engineering calls the commission says increased the
risk of a blowout.
"The blowout was not the product of a series of abberational
decisions made by a rogue industry or government officials that
could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather,
the root causes are systemic, and absent significant reform in both
industry practices and government policies, might well recur," the
Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the report
focused on areas in which the agency in charge of offshore drilling
has already made improvements.
"The agency has taken unprecedented steps and will continue to
make the changes necessary to restore the American people's
confidence in the safety and environmental soundness of oil and gas
drilling and production on the Outer Continental Shelf, while
balancing our nation's important energy needs," Barkoff said in a
BP PLC in a statement issued Wednesday said the report, like its
own investigation, found the accident was the result of multiple
causes, involving multiple companies, but the company was working
with regulators "to ensure the lessons learned from Macondo lead
to improvements in operations and contractor services in deepwater
Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig being leased by BP to
perform the drilling, said in response to the commission's findings
that "the procedures being conducted in the final hours were
crafted and directed by BP engineers and approved in advance by
Halliburton Co., the cement contractor on the well, also said it
acted at the direction of BP and was "fully indemnified by BP."
The commission underscores its central conclusion with a quote
from an e-mail written by BP engineer Brett Cocales on April 16,
just days before the disaster. The e-mail was first unearthed in an
investigation conducted by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who at the
time led the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"But, who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine
and we'll get a good cement job," Cocales wrote, after he
disagreed with BP's decision to use fewer centralizers than
recommended. Centralizers are used to center the pipe to ensure a
good cement job. The cement failed at the bottom of the Macondo
well, allowing oil and gas to enter it, according to
The suggestion that the BP disaster may not be an isolated
incident runs counter to assurances by the oil industry, which has
worked hard to portray the accident as a rare occurrence.
"This clearly was a rare incident," the president of the
American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, said Tuesday when his
organization published a new report urging Congress and the Obama
administration to open more areas to oil and gas drilling.
Outside experts in technological disasters were split by the
report's excerpt. They lauded the commission's focus on
organizational and managerial failures instead of blaming the rig
workers. But they were divided whether the panel went far enough in
criticizing the companies for taking time- and money-saving
University of California at Berkeley engineering professor Bob
Bea, who has studied and worked on offshore oil rigs for decades
and is an international expert on technological disasters, lauded
the panel for "articulating the hows and whys."
"This was a preventable disaster," said Bea, who ran a
Berkeley investigation into the accident. "We failed to manage and
we were managed."