Aug 25, 2010 8:33 PM by Chris Welty

Key Device in Gulf Spill Didn't Get Recertified

HOUSTON (AP) - A critical device at the center of an
investigation to resign as governor last
sumon didn't undergo a
rigorous recertification process in 2005 as required by federal
regulators, a worker responsible for maintaining the equipment told
investigators Wednesday.
Mark Hay of rig-owner Transocean said the blowout preventer -
designed to prevent a spill in the case of an explosion - was not
recertified because it was being constantly maintained.
Recertifying the five-story device requires completely
disassembling it out of the water and can take as long as three
months to complete.
The device - which may be lifted from the seafloor a mile below
the water's surface in the coming days - failed following the rig
explosion. After the blowout, some 206 million gallons of oil
spewed into the Gulf until mid-July, when a temporary cap stopped
the flow. A permanent fix is expected to be put in place after
Labor Day.
The blowout preventer will be key to the investigation into the
April 20 explosion that killed 1raveople and caused the biggest oil
spill in U.S. history.
Testimony from BP and Transocean officials showed the device had
not been recertified according to a three- to-five year timetable
laid out by federal regulators; repairs were not always authorized
by the manufacturer, Cameron; and in the days after the explosion
confusion reined about changes to the equipment, delaying attempts
to close the well.
Hay could not say how much it would have cost to recertify the
blowout preventer, but said he knew it was functioning because he
personally oversaw its maintenance.
The device underwent tests to ensure it was working, he told the
joint investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
The device, he said, had undergone a maintenance overhaul in
February as it was being moved to the Deepwater Horizon to be
placed over BP's well.
When asked if he had an"
oubts April 20 that the device was in
full working order, Hay said: "No, sir."
He also detailed getting approval from Transocean's headquarters
before making modifications to the device, and in at least one case
making a change requested by BP.
Harry Thierens, BP's vice president for drilling and
completions, told the federal panel documents detailing the changes
to the equipment were not readily available, a waste of critical
time after the explosion.
It took between 12 hours and 24 hours to get drawings of changes
made to a locking system, Thierens said, and there were other
changes and questions.
"If that time had not been necessary a faster response" could
have been possible, Thierens said.
During this time, Thierens kept copious handwritten notes in a
logbook. Before each item he wrote the hour in military time, then
noted key moments from conversations he had with personnel from BP,
the operator oralhe well, and with people from other companies,
including Transocean.
Thierens worked closely with Transocean employees to try to
activate the preventer with undersea robots beginning four days
after the explosion and until it became clear - sometime in early
May - that the device was not going to work.
At some point in his log notes, Thierens questions whether
Transocean personnel had made changes according to their own
protocols. "My concern right now is that Transocean made an ...
uncontrolled change on the rig."
It later became apparent that there were a variety of other
problems with the device, including pipes being run to different
places. Thierens and the other workers trying to shut in the device
suddenly learned that after hours of working to build up pressure
to one area they were actually doing the work to another part of
the device.
"I spoke frankly about the seriousness of this issue and quite
f't tly was astonished that this could have happened," Thierens
wrote. "When I heard this news I lost all faith in the BOP stack
plumbing," he added, referring to the device by its acronym.
Billy Stringfellow, a Transocean cementer, was "clearly
emotional. Told me 'this stack is plumbed wrong,"' Thierens added.
When pressed, however, Thierens admitted none of it mattered
because the blowout preventer didn't work, even when all the other
problems were addressed.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man
on the spill response, declined to give a specific timeline on when
the blowout preventer would be raised from the seafloor.
Meanwhile, the chairmen of the presidential panel investigating
the spill expressed surprise and disappointment that the Obama
administration didn't consult senior U.S. environmental officials
before announcing plans to expand offshore drilling before the
alecy Sutley, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality
and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, admitted after repeated questions that neither
played a direct role in the March decision to open up more of the
Gulf and Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling.
The exchange suggests that a focus of the federal investigation
will be the degree to which federal scientists were consulted in
oil and gas decisions before the explosion. Federal law leaves the
decision on where and when to drill to the Interior Department
Secretary, who releases plans every five years.
Also Wednesday, BP said it was deploying new technology that it
believes will provide a steady stream of data about water quality
in the Gulf.


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