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Gulf oil spill: Alarms, detectors disabled so top rig officials could sleep [updated]

Critical fire and gas leak alarm systems had been disabled for at least a year aboard the Deepwater Horizon because the rig’s leaders didn’t want to wake up to false alarms, a rig chief engineer tech told federal investigators.

“I discovered it was ‘inhibited’ about a year ago,” said Mike Williams, the chief engineer tech who worked for rig owner Transocean aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which erupted in flames April 20, killing 11 men and starting the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

“I inquired," Williams told an investigative panel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department in suburban New Orleans. "The explanation I got was that from the [offshore installation manager] down, they did not want people to wake up at 3 a.m. due to false alarm,”  Williams said. Williams later said the rig’s captain had also agreed that the alarms were to be disabled.

Williams said he complained repeatedly about disabling the systems, from six months to three days prior to the rig’s explosion. He said he told supervisors it was unsatisfactory for the alarms to be disabled, but was rebuffed.

The alarm systems could have been helpful to alert crew members of catastrophe and initiate an emergency shutdown system that could have shut down the engines -- a dangerous ignition source -- as soon as a surge of flammable natural gas surged up the oil well onto the rig.

Williams testified that prior to the explosions, he heard a hissing sound and heard an engine over-rev. Alarms in “inhibited” mode means that a control panel that would detect the alarm would indicate the alert, but general alarms that would sound loudly across the rig would not go off.

The emergency shutdown system also had previous problems. Williams said another employee, at some point before the April 20 disaster, inadvertently triggered an emergency shutdown system to an engine that was running. Down came fire doors intended to deprive the engine of oxygen, which would have put out a fire in the engines had there been one.

But the doors weren’t built strongly. Once the doors came down, the force of the engines ripped the fire doors off their hinges.

“The engine was running. The fire dampers closed, and it sucked the fire doors off the engines,” Williams said. “The function of them was to shut down the engine. If it can’t get air, it can’t run.”

Williams said that as a result of that previous problem, the crew did not test the automatic function of the emergency shutdown system for the engine.

The testimony was given at a hearing probing the cause of the oil spill.

[Update, 2:35 p.m.: Transocean officials issued the following statement in response to the testimony:

The general alarm configuration on the Deepwater Horizon was intentional and conforms to accepted maritime practices, including those on some Navy and Coast Guard vessels. It was not a safety oversight or done as a matter of convenience.
 
The alarm system on every large maritime vessel, including the Deepwater Horizon, is zone based. The Deepwater Horizon had hundreds of individual fire and gas alarms, all of which were tested, in good condition, not bypassed and monitored from the bridge.
 
The general alarm is controlled by a person on the bridge and sounded from there, only when conditions require. This is an option on each individual vessel designed to prevent the general alarm from sounding unnecessarily when one of the hundreds of local alarms activates for what could be a minor issues or a non-emergency.
Repeated false alarms increase risk and decrease rig safety.]

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Kenner, La.

 
Comments () | Archives (15)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Oh right, the computer tech (not a "chief engineer") with a $6 million lawsuit against Transocean casts himself as the hero in this tale - there's a surprise.

Every rig and ship (and plenty of onshore facilities) inhibits their general alarms, just like the Transocean statement said. The hundreds of individual alarms are monitored from the bridge 24 hours a day, and if one is serious enough the general alarm is sounded; if two or more alarms go off at the same time or if one alarm goes off for a period of time, the general alarm automatically goes off, and the zone alarms are never inhibited.

This guy is either an idiot if he doesn't know this, or he is making sure he collects his money.

How can so many so-called responsible people be this stupid? They should each be arrested for 11 counts of involuntary man slaughter.

Ok that makes a lot of sense dude.

Lou
www.post-anonymously.at.tc

This makes as much sense as putting duct tape over a newborn babies mouth just so you can sleep.

Both are criminal acts!

EVERYBODY HAS ALREADY MADE UP THEIR MINDS AS TO WHOM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS TRAGEDY.NONE OF US ACTUALLY KNOW FOR SURE ,TELEVISION CRITICS AND OUR SENATORS AND OUR CONGRESSMEN HAVE A CAUSE CELEB.BLAME EVERYBODY BUT THOSE RESPONSIBLE, OURSELVES AND OUR CONTINUING RELIENCE ON OIL (AS A DRIVER OF ALL MODERN ECONOMIES) TRY GOING ANYWHERE WITHOUT USING OIL OR A PRODUCT OF OIL THE WHOLE WORLD IS DRIVEN BY OIL.WE HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT WE HAVE TO CHANGE BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A VEHICLE THAT GOES 8 MILES TO THE GALLON WHOSE FAULT IS IT.WE COMPLAIN ABOUT OIL COMPANIES WHEN THE PRICES RISE AND WE ALL WANT CHEAP OIL YOU CAN'T KEEP HAVING IT THE WAY WE WANT,THE OIL COMPANIES ARE SURPLYING WHAT WE WANT WE CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.TRANSOCEAN,BP AND HALLIBURTON ALL HAD THEIR PART TO PLAY IN THIS SAD TRAGEDY.

I now hope that some criminal charges are being looked into.

The rig was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries in 2001. One has to wonder if fire doors ripping off hinges is par for the course with their offshore rigs.

If their rigs were built to the same standards as Hyundai vehicles were 10 years ago, I'd imagine they're substandard. Too bad there's no JD Power type organization for offshore rigs.

http://www.jdpower.com/autos/hyundai/2001

Wow, Just wow!!!! Just because someone did not want to be woken up at 3am the ocean and all the surrounding communities have to suffer. The level of neglect and laziness is criminal in all of this. It is the fault of everyone involved and is so sad. The engineers told BP and other, but no one listen. We must listen to these engineers and scientist that are trained to tell us of these problems.

Will there be no criminal prosecutions? Eleven men died!

So, criminal negligence caused the deaths of 11 workers and untold billions of dollars in clean-up costs and environmental damage. Does anyone still care to argue that regulations are unnecessary?

And the lawyers are lined up two X two, some supervisors need to go to prison over this one, big time.....

Can you spell "LAWSUIT"?? If this is verified BP is in for huge lawsuits because it proves criminal intent. Ditto for environmental lawsuits. This is huge!

Somebody should be going to jail. this is what happens when from the top end,there's no understanding and real love and caring for mother earth. money wins out, and the base of man comes out.

Sounds like criminal negligence to me.

I find it strange that BP unloaded tons of stock a couple of weeks before this happened.

Also - Haliburton bought an oil cleanup company 8 days before this accident.


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