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Gulf oil spill: Before explosion, BP was warned to slow down

Hours before the fatal accident that sunk the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico,  Transocean workers quarreled with BP officials who wanted to go ahead and finish the job despite earlier problems, a rig mechanic told a U.S. Coast Guard investigatory committee Wednesday.

Douglas Brown, the rig’s chief mechanic, testified that three Transocean officials balked at the desire of a BP “company man” to go ahead with a process to clear the riser with seawater. The riser is the connector pipe between the rig and well, and this would have been a final step to finish the exploratory drilling job BP had hired Transocean to complete.

“There was a slight argument took place … the company man was saying, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’ ” said Brown, who could not identify the BP official. 

After the mid-morning meeting, Brown said, Transocean specialist Jimmy Harrell grumbled, “Well, I guess that’s what we have those ‘pinchers’ for” – apparently referring to the shear rams on the blowout preventer on the sea floor, an emergency device used only when all other means of controlling the oil well have failed. Brown’s account suggests Harrell thought BP was taking a grave risk.

His testimony was the most dramatic of Wednesday morning’s hearing in suburban New Orleans, part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service into the rig explosion.

It came as BP engineers began a procedure, called a top kill, in the latest effort to stanch oil that has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon April 20, which killed 11 people.

On April 20, Brown was filling out a nightly log in the Deepwater Horizon’s engine control room. He had worked on the rig for more than a decade. His team had been cut since 2003 and, he said, it made his job that much tougher.

Brown testified that workers were under pressure to get the job done fast. BP and government documents suggest it was already over budget.

“It was passed around … that this well was taking too long and [BP was] in a hurry to complete it so they could move on to the next,” he testified, though some BP reps had come aboard that day to congratulate the Transocean crew on its safety record.

Just before 9:45 p.m., Brown heard an “extremely loud air-leak sound” that didn’t sound normal.
Gas alarms started blaring. Someone over the radio announced a “well-control situation.”

Engines No. 3 and 6, the only ones in operation, appeared to be speeding up. “I heard them revving up higher and higher and higher,” Brown said. All of a sudden, blackness – the power had gone out.

The vessel had completely lost power once before, for two minutes. In 2008, engine No. 3's governor had failed. Brown said the problem, which wasn’t caught in periodic inspections, had been repaired and a representative from an inspection service, the American Bureau of Shipping, testified that it never followed up.

Safety devices are supposed to shut down the engines should they start gunning too quickly. That did not occur, Brown said, and he had no authority or instructions to them shut down himself.
Brown suspected that what happened next was the result of a sudden influx of gas that caused the explosion of engine No. 3, which was closest to the air intake system. 

“If I would have shut down those engines, it could have stopped [them] as an ignition source,” he said.

Blowouts on oil rigs begin when natural gas from under the sea floor shoots uncontrollably up the drill column and over the rig. Once a cloud of gas has erupted, it takes only a spark from any piece of mechanical equipment to ignite it into a fire that melts metal.

The first explosion – from the port side, near engine No. 3 – hurled Brown against a control panel and into a tangle of cable trays and wires. A second explosion shook the control room. The ceiling collapsed on top of him. “I started hearing people screaming and calling for help, that they were hurt, they needed to get out of here,” he said.

He and another man – bleeding profusely from his forehead – crawled out of the rubble. Brown hurried to the back deck and saw the oil derrick in flames. Despite weekly emergency drills, Brown indicated the crew was not entirely prepared for such a chaotic event.

People screamed. They cried. He heard later that some had jumped overboard. Brown headed toward a lifeboat, where the person taking a headcount was nearly frozen in shock. “This was a man who’s known me for nine years and he could not even remember my name,” Brown said.
The order was given to abandon ship. Later, Brown was airlifted for treatment of his injuries, which he did not specify. 

He told the investigatory panel that he hoped it weeded out the incident’s cause, so he and others “can go to work and feel safe.”

-- Ashley Powers

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Funny, You hear about the "BP officials" who came onto the rig that day and decided "this is how it's going to be - Replacing the Drill Mud with Sea Water" and yet Nobody has mentioned a Name..." Who WERE they? Or are they in the Witness Protection Program now? But since they were most likely just corporate figureheads sent to deliver a Msg to the Rig people, WHO authorized the Switching from Drill Mud to Sea water? We don't hear THAT person's name either!
Also, WHY are they going to Cap OFF the Well with Cement, when since it's already pumping oil, they could just tie into it with the other rigs, re route the oil and start gathering the oil thats already down there? So much Pain and Effort has gone into drilling this well, that you'd think they'd at least make use of the oil thats coming from it...
Just My Opinion

This was all on 60 Minutes over a week ago.

The first rule of any technical process should be control. Our techological capabilities are only as good as our control over them. If indeed we have been so powerless to control this leak, we have a serious problem, not just with this particular incident but with the technological and control processes.

I have been in support of off-shore drilling as long as it was controlled and thereby relatively safe. BP didn't behave as responsibly as they needed when control over potential risks was so tenuous.

We don't need the government to monitor companies more closely as much as we need companies to do due diligence in understanding the risks of their enterprises. I hope that in every boardroom around the country the accountable officers take this as a warning that their technology presents risks, sometimes overwhelming risks.

Nuclear energy and harvesting of natural resources are prime examples of those that should take this most seriously. Countries with nuclear weapons and significant military capabilities should view this disaster as what can happen if they don't act responsibly as well.

I think that the ultimate risk for BP is that they will go out of business over this incident. The risks to our world and civilization are much more serious and can't be cured by bankruptcy. They may want profits, but they NEED to be safe. They failed and it's going to affect millions of people and the economy of a region. Hindsight may be 20/20 but it's their job to be responsible stewards of a dangerous technology and they are accountable for this disaster, whatever the outcome, i.e. bankruptcy and/or criminal charges. They let us all down.

Does anybody know where all this presious oil/crude was going before the pipe break and surface explosion? Why do we have oil shortages & high prices? while they are taking it out of our backyard??? I think BP should be shut off for good and any company that wants to drill will be owned by special groups; AMERICANS!!! Yes we will take the company public and get some deep pockets to take-over the millions of gallons on crude and prcess it right here in Florida for total use in America. Or explain to me what I am missing out of all this? How can a company who specializes in OIL and RIG's not know what to do if one of our MAN-MADE pipes gets broken???? wow?

This is brutal.

How about HALLIBURTON's part in this? They are the real evil lurking behind this story and so many others. Why hasn't the LA Times done any coverage about the fact that the weekend before the blow-out, they bought an oil disaster recovery and valve manufacturer?! When it's well known that their sub-standard cementing job was the last thing done before the blowout? Could it be because Rupert doesn't want his stock in Halliburton to drop? Follow the money, people...and wake up, "reporters"!

"Hours before the fatal accident that sunk the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico..."

That should be SANK, not sunk.

In all organizations, there are those who pick the grapes and those who drink the wine. It is, as with most catastrophes, starting to show that the "grape pickers" knew there we serious safety issues, but the "wine-drinkers" didn't not want to hear the truth, and only cared about the bottom line. I truly believe that there should be felony level investigations, felony court proceedings and if the "wine-drinkers" are found guilty, some significant prison terms ought to be handed down. If we can't significantly punish those truly responsible for this seriously reprehensible and ill fated historical event, we will simply give license for corportations to continue on with the business as usual, or " talk out one side of our mouth, but screw it, let's make money no matter what the costs may be attitude". Personally, I am fed up with big business, politics and I can't stand it anymore, I've had enough!


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