Criminal Negligence: Despite Knowing It Had a Damaged Blowout Preventer, BP STILL Cut Corners By Removing the Single Most Important Safety Measure → Washingtons Blog
Criminal Negligence: Despite Knowing It Had a Damaged Blowout Preventer, BP STILL Cut Corners By Removing the Single Most Important Safety Measure - Washingtons Blog

Monday, May 17, 2010

Criminal Negligence: Despite Knowing It Had a Damaged Blowout Preventer, BP STILL Cut Corners By Removing the Single Most Important Safety Measure

Several weeks before the Gulf oil explosion, a key piece of safety equipment - the blowout preventer - was damaged.

As the Times of London reports:

[Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on the Deepwater Horizon, and one of the last workers to leave the doomed rig] claimed that the blowout preventer was then damaged when a crewman accidentally moved a joystick, applying hundreds of thousands of pounds of force. Pieces of rubber were found in the drilling fluid, which he said implied damage to a crucial seal. But a supervisor declared the find to be “not a big deal”, Mr Williams alleged.

UC Berkeley engineering professor Bob Bea told 60 Minutes that a damaged blowout preventer not only may lead to a catastrophic accident like the Gulf oil spill, but leads to inaccurate pressure readings, so that the well operator doesn't know the real situation, and cannot keep the rig safe.

Bea also said that - despite the damage - BP ordered the rig operator to ignore an even more critical safety measure. Specifically, BP ordered the rig operator to remove the "drilling mud" - a heavy liquid used to keep oil and gas from escaping - before the well was sealed.

According to Bea, the accident would not have occurred had drilling mud been used.

The importance of drilling mud is well-known. For example:

Frank Patton, a drilling engineer for the government's Mineral Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, told a separate inquiry in Kenner, La., that drilling mud "is the most important thing in safety for your well."

And numerous eyewitnesses have confirmed that drilling mud was removed too early.

For example, as the Times-Picayune reports:

Bickford's client, who was working immediately next to the drill floor at the time of the explosion, claims the rig operators had already started pumping mud out of the riser....

"We had set the bottom cement plug," the [whistleblower] said. "At that point the BOP stack, the blowout preventer, was tested. I don't know the results of that test. However, it must have passed because at that point they elected to displace the marine riser from the vessel to the sea floor. They displaced all the mud out to the riser preparing to unlatch from the well two days later. So they displaced it with sea water."


Bickford said his client saw mud being pumped out of the riser and onto boats that normally collect the mud in tanks. Another lawyer, Stuart Smith, said he represents fishermen who witnessed the explosion and saw the mud being extracted beforehand.


Other lawsuits by rig workers paint a similar picture. Bill Johnson, a Transocean deck pusher with 35 years of experience on oil rigs, was injured in the explosion and has sued his employer, BP, Halliburton and others in Galveston County, Texas. Johnson's attorney, Kurt Arnold of Houston, said Johnson had a meeting with a BP supervisor about 10 hours before the explosion and was told "things were plugged in the well and good to go. He thinks in retrospect the company man was not following procedure."

Another one of Arnold's clients, roustabout Nick Watson, said mud came back up the hole so suddenly before the explosion that he was trying to wipe it away from his eyes on the deck when the power went out and the first explosion came, Arnold said.

If the final cement plug wasn't in place yet, removing the mud would be at odds with "good oil-field practice" outlined in 2003 by the federal Minerals Management Service. The MMS report, prepared by WEST Engineering Services, warns against single-point failures -- counting on one mode of protection -- by saying that "mud weight is the first round of defense against a kick, followed up by" the blowout preventer. Removing the mud left the blowout preventer as the only failsafe.

"To displace mud above the position of the upper plug with water before setting the upper plug means that you are relying on one barrier for the duration; this is not good," said a deepwater drilling expert who did not want to be identified because he does business with BP. The expert is not involved in the Deepwater Horizon project.

And as McClatchy reported on May 11th:

Investigators on Tuesday homed in on whether an uncommon sequence of events involving a decision to remove heavy drilling lubricants early from a pipeline may have triggered the sudden upwelling of gas that led to the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.


Anthony Gervaso, the engineer aboard a supply ship that was parked near the rig when it exploded, told a Coast Guard inquiry in Kenner, La., that he'd learned from his captain that rig workers pulled from the water had said they'd just start removing the drilling lubricant from the well when gas shot up the pipe and exploded.

Tim Probert, an executive of Halliburton, the subcontractor responsible for placing a cement plug in the well, told senators in Washington that the dense drilling fluid had been pulled from the drilling tube and replaced with much lighter seawater before a cement plug had been set to block gas and oil from coming up the pipeline.

Normally, the procedure would have been to place the plug and then switch out the drilling fluid for sea water. But he said the decision to reverse the process came at the instigation of BP, the well's owner.

The switch, he said, was “in accordance with the requirements of the well owner's well construction plan.”

The drilling fluid is commonly called mud, but it is a complex and expensive recipe of clay and minerals that is recovered from a well and recycled....

Before a cement plug is installed, muds are the most important and effective way to restrict gasses and fluids held under pressure deep underground.

Probert, asked whether the practice was an unusual sequence of events, told Sen. Jeff Session, R-Ala., that he couldn’t answer that question, but that it had “been used on multiple occasions in the Gulf of Mexico.”

As for who was responsible for determining whether it was a normal sequence of events, both Probert and Steven Newman, the CEO of Transocean, which owned the rig, said it would have been up to BP as the well owner to have conversations with MMS about that.

“As the lease operator and the well owner, that falls on BP,” Newman said.


McKay declined to address the issue of why the decision was made to pull the drilling lubricants early. He said BP knows there were unusual pressure test readings prior to the explosion but that he was not familiar with “the individual procedure on that well.”


Asked by Sessions whether a blowout would have been less likely if the mud had not been removed, he responded: "I don't know. I don't know.”

And see this.

As Jed Lewison points out:

One important implication of this report: BP's $75 million liability cap for economic damages does not apply if the company is guilty of willful negligence, and if last night's 60 Minutes report on the disaster is accurate, BP will certainly be on the hook for everything.


  1. Secretive, arrogant and powerful BP refuses to release the videos of the total wellhead damage and President Obama is complicit in the cover-up.

  2. ...and President Obama is complicit in the cover-up?

    It is my understanding from news reports that the president is furious and has stated that BP will pay for all damages and losses, A to Z.

  3. Ahhh... it this the same Obama who is taking it so forcefully to the banksters bringing this country, check that...this WORLD down?

    The same Obama that was the largest recipient of Walls St/Bankers largeness in his campaigning?

    The same Obama who stacked his cabinet with hoary Wall St insiders who only serve Bankers interests?

  4. the ideas of the author seems very sharp

  5. This is no longer the land of the free. Government has turned our country into a blood thirsty beast seeking profit at any expense. We have and still continue to committ inhumane crimes against humanity and nature. How long will it take for Americans to make a revolution? Do we even know how to anymore? We're all too afraid. That sounds a lot like freedom, eh?

  6. The solution is so simple, it becomes apparent that the failure to contain is intentional. In asymmetric warfare, failure can be a positive act of war. BP has declared WAR against the US, probably because a handful of generals in the Pentagon are refusing to send US soldiers to war against Iran, to the detriment of the Pentagon and the benefit of BP.

    When you drill a well, of necessity you create two "holes" in the Earth. First, there is the hole that is "drilled" in the bare soil, probably 48" or so in diameter. This is the actual "raw" hole, created by a rotating bit, loosely somewhat like an augur. With proper lubrication (clay slurry) it grinds up everything it encounters. Inside the outer hole, there is the welded steel casing, made of ductile steel, probably 36" in diameter with 1" sidewalls. (The actual numbers are irrelevant.)

    Beneath the 5,000 ft of water, the well hole in this case has reportedly been drilled another 30,000 feet beneath the sea floor.

    In order to defend the well geometry from the erosive forces of the planned outflows, the entire well has to have either a rock lining for a structural sidewall, or, in loose soil like sand, a welded steel casing has be inserted to act as sidewall protector. Otherwise, the sands eventually just flow back in and shut off the well.

    The well needs structural sidewalls to prevent sand from collapsing in and closing off the well during operation.

    That points to the solution ... remove the steel casing, which may be 30,000 feet long for all we know.

    Remove the steel casing, and the flow of the oil past the weak sidewalls of sandy sidewalls of the bored well will cause the sidewalls to collapse back in towards the center and close the well off.

    But how do we to remove the steel casing?

    Thermite was used in the bombing of Dresden ... it is regularly used in underwater bridge demolition ... it was used to melt the 16 core columns in each of the World Trade Center towers on 9-11-01, each of which columns were welded from steel sheets that were 6" thick. Thermite melts 6" thick steel like it was butter in an oven.

    I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Thermite was also used to bring down the drilling tower itself. This smells like 9-11 all over again. The surface fires on the drilling rig did not cause the support legs of the rig, that were underwater, to suddenly melt. Yet, it is easily visible that that was apparently what happened. When the rig collapsed, it gave way underwataer.

    Dump Thermite on the well head ... the fact that it is underwater will have no effect whatsoever on the chemical reaction between the aluminum and the iron. The casing will be melted by the ferocious exothermic reaction between the iron in the steel and the weaponized aluminum in the Thermate. The ball of melted steel can keep on going right on through to China, for all I care.

    I call it the 911 solution.

    The flowing column of oil, 30,000 feet long, will no longer be confined by the geometry of the steel casing. Thus, it can begin to SLOW DOWN!

    Getting this 30,000 foot long column of incompressible fluid to slow down has to be the first step to stopping the flow and later closing the well. Otherwise, you are just throwing bricks at a huge water hammer effect ... in terms of momentum there is not much difference between a vertical column of incompressible fluid, 30,000 ft long, confined to a given geometry and moving, and a horizontal freight train 30,000 feet long, and moving. Neither is going to be stopped by some abrupt shut off valve effect ... a 30,000 ft long column of incompressible fluid already in motion, is not going to be stopped by any thing, except by first removing the geometry of its confinement, to slow it down.

    THERMITE the casing ... with the confinement removed, the flows slow down and the sidewalls of sand collapse in.

  7. Yes Obama has been complicit in both the lies and the cover up from the beginning. Only the gullible are fooled by his grandstanding theatrics.Obama has been following BP'a lead from the start. Hw is on their payroll. Every time BP lies the White house repeats it verbatim. If Obama were serious he would launch a real criminal investigation into Bp, TransOcean and Halliburton.

  8. the wages of sin (greed and inequity) is death
    those who have more money than they can ever use-and hoard it so it will exist even after they die-while others die of starvation-what does it profit them -when they have lost their souls in the process-expect the destruction to continue-until america resembles Iraq and Afghanistan-Why? Ultimately-you reap what you sow-get back what you gave-destruction thirst starvation death and torture. Yes the rich get back what they give=starvation and death in Hell.

  9. Why on earth is BP still in charge, or even involved at all, of the clean up? They lied, ignored warnings and removed safety measures, then spent the rest of this time denying the scale of the leak, ignoring proven methods to contain and clean it up, and have instead opted to spray deadly chemicals, much more toxic than the oil, into the sea, making it impossible to retrieve that oil, and creating giant floating dead zones.

    This is pure insanity.

  10. this is like lung cancer trying to cut itself out

  11. even my auto mechanic knows the importance of seal integrity in my automobile. if the rubber annular (seal) within the Blowout preventer was compromised weeks prior to the disaster, it's a no brainer, their is going to be catastrophic failure, its only a question of when and how bad the damages will be. maybe when BP became the GREEN energy company they should have kept on a few more of their senior oil and gas engineers (sent out to the pasture), who knew how to drill safely and would have not make this catastrophic mistake, as far as BP's future, they are toasted bye bye!


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