By Dow Jones Business News,
June 05, 2014, 08:57:00 PM EDT
By Russell Gold
Federal investigators probing the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster say a critical piece of safety equipment helped
trigger the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The report by the Chemical Safety Board, an independent investigative arm of the federal government, renews
questions about the effectiveness of blowout preventers, giant sets of valves that are supposed to seal off an oil well
in an emergency.
The draft report concludes that the pipe running from the subsea oil well to the drilling rig through the blowout
preventer, or BOP, buckled around the time a surge of natural gas from the well ignited, causing an explosion which
killed 11 crew members.
The pipe was damaged in such a way that the blowout preventer couldn't cut it and seal it off, the board said. The
buckling occurred because of big differences in pressure inside and outside the pipe, which ran through about 5,000 feet
The blowout preventer itself punctured the pipe, the board said, allowing oil to start leaking into the Gulf of
Mexico close to the seabed. About five million barrels of oil flowed into the gulf before the well was closed off, 87
"The pipe buckling--unlikely to be detected by the drilling crew--could render the BOP inoperable in an emergency,"
said Mary Beth Mulcahy, who led the technical analysis for the board. "This hazard could impact even the best offshore
companies, those who are maintaining their blowout preventers and other equipment to a high standard."
The American Petroleum Institute, the energy industry's trade group, criticized the report, saying it "appears to
omit significant facts and ignores the tremendous strides made to enhance the safety of offshore operations." The
federal government expects to issue a new rule later this year on blowout preventers.
BP PLC, which owned the well about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, said Transocean Ltd., which owned the
drilling rig and the blowout preventer, "failed to, among other things, properly maintain the BOP and control the well."
Transocean said the report "confirms that the Deepwater Horizon BOP had been tested successfully in accordance with
regulatory requirements and activated as intended at the time of the incident."
Cameron International Corp., which made the device, declined to comment.
The report is in broad agreement with previous investigations about what initially caused the disaster, which began
on April 20, 2010, as the Deepwater Horizon crew tried to put a temporary plug into an oil well deep underwater. Rig
workers made a grievous mistake when they tested the cement in the well and, despite anomalous readings, decided it was
stable, the report says.
Some prior probes into the accident have said that faulty maintenance and defective equipment kept the crew from
activating the BOP at the time of the accident, and that it was triggered remotely two days later.
The new report says it was in fact activated automatically in the minutes after the explosion aboard the rig.The
report also suggests that early emergency steps taken by the crew had brought the gushing well under control before the
BOP's shearing rams were triggered.
Write to Russell Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org
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