Report points fingers at BP mistakes, shortcuts

TALLAHASSEE — In what likely will become fodder for upcoming lawsuits, a stinging federal report scheduled for release next week shows that shortcuts, mistakes, questionable technology and overall poor management led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Releasing a portion of the report it will formally submit to President Obama on Jan. 11, the National Oil Spill Commission on Thursday had plenty of blame to spread around for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The commission, co-chaired by former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, also is tasked with suggesting how to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic event that cost 11 lives and billions of dollars.

BP, Halliburton and Transocean share the majority of blame for the April 20 blow out of BP’s Macondo well, but the incident brought up industry-wide shortcomings that are even more troubling, the commission said.

“Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time and money,” the report reads. “There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing a less costly or less-time-consuming alternative — as long as it is proven to be equally safe.”

Federal regulators did not escape blame as the commission, also co-chaired by former Environmental Protection Agency Administator William Reilly, found agencies tasked with policing the industry lacked the authority and the expertise to properly do the job. The report is scheduled for full release next week.

“The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening,” an advance excerpt released this week reads. “But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure—a failure of management.”

Florida officials, meanwhile, have conducted a number of hearings as they try to recoup state and local money spent in repsonse to the disaster. People and businesses affected by the spill are also embroiled in efforts to receive payment from a $20 billion fund set up to compensate victims of the spill.

BP oversight was found lacking on a number of fronts, led by the decision to allow the well to be drilled using only six stabilizers instead of the 21 called for in its own engineers. Though unable to unequivocally link the lack of stabilizers to the blow out, investigators said the decision showed markedly poor management on BP’s part.

The commission found that BP’s overall approach to the stabilizer issue was best summed up in an E -mail sent by a BP engineer to a colleague days before the explosion arguing that more stabilizers were needed.

“But, who cares, it’s done, end of story, [we] will probably be fine and we’ll get a good cement job,” the engineers concluded.

Looking at Halliburton, the company responsible for providing the cement needed to both cap the well and secure the bore hole, the commission found that the company disregarded its own tests that showed the foamy cement mixture it was using might not work at such depths and pressures.

“Halliburton documents strongly suggest that the final foam stability test results indicating stable slurry may not even have been available before Halliburton pumped the primary cement job at Macondo,” the report said. “If true, Halliburton pumped foam cement into the well at Macondo at a time when all available test data showed the cement would be, in fact, unstable.”

Meanwhile, employees for Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon Rig, failed to follow protocols and misread tell-tale signs that things were not proceeding as planned during the critical hours leading to the explosion and fire aboard the drilling platform that marked the beginning of a three month battle as millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf, the commission found.

The investigation showed rig workers may have overlooked some developments and disregarded others as indications mounted throughout the day that trouble was brewing.

But mistakes and failures to appreciate risk compromised each of those potential barriers,steadily depriving the rig crew of safeguards until the blowout was inevitable and, at the very end, uncontrollable,” the report concluded.

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