Oil Spill Crude Disaster

Jan 9, 2011 12:33 PM by Chris Welty

Feds Push Back in Flap Over Blowout Preventer Test

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Federal investigators are pushing back
against criticism they aren't doing enough to keep companies
involved in the Gulf oil spill away from any hands-on role in the
forensic analysis of a key piece of equipment that failed to keep
crude from entering the sea.
Rep. Edward J. Markey sent a letter Friday to the director of
the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement
detailing what he said are new concerns about conflicts of interest
in the blowout preventer testing.
Markey's letter said a Cameron International employee was
allowed to operate components of the blowout preventer during the
same week that an ocean energy bureau spokeswoman insisted company
representatives are not involved in testing the 300-ton device.
Markey's concerns are similar to those expressed recently by the
U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
However, the same spokeswoman, Melissa Schwartz, said Saturday
the Cameron worker, Ray Fain, wasn't doing testing of the blowout
preventer, but rather was involved in flushing the pods to keep
them from eroding, a procedure that is being done periodically and
requires proprietary Cameron computer equipment and a technician to
operate.
Schwartz said the parties involved in the testing agreed months
ago, in consultation with a federal judge, that the procedure was
necessary and may need to be conducted every few months.
Representatives for Cameron, BP PLC, Transocean Ltd., the
Justice Department and lawyers for plaintiffs in lawsuits over the
disaster have been allowed to monitor the examination of the
blowout preventer at a NASA facility in New Orleans since testing
began Nov. 16.
A Norwegian firm was hired to do the testing under the
supervision of a federal investigation team.
But the safety board, and now Markey, D-Mass., said employees
from Transocean and Cameron have been getting preferential and
sometimes hands-on access to the blowout preventer. That would pose
a conflict of interest because Transocean was responsible for
maintaining the blowout preventer before the disaster and Cameron
made the device.
The board has said it wants the testing halted until Transocean
and Cameron officials are removed from any hands-on role in the
examination. Markey said in his letter that he wants an
investigation of the conduct of any federal investigators or
officials who allowed Cameron and Transocean employees improper
access to the blowout preventer.
Following the safety board complaints, Transocean denied it had
acted improperly. It also has suggested that the safety board
doesn't have jurisdiction to participate in the investigation. A
Cameron spokesman did not respond to a Saturday request for
comment.
Following the April 20, 2010, rig explosion in the Gulf of
Mexico, the blowout preventer used with BP's well failed to do its
job: stopping the flow of oil to the sea. Eleven workers were
killed in the blast, and some 200 million gallons of oil were
released by BP's undersea well, according to government estimates
that BP disputes.
The device was raised from the seafloor on Sept. 4, and it sat
at the NASA facility for two months before testing began.

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