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Gulf oil spill: Crew of Deepwater Horizon failed to see warning signs, expert says

July 23, 2010 |  6:00 pm
Oil rig workers failed to properly complete key tests aboard the Deepwater Horizon that could have shown the risk of a surge of natural gas from the undersea well to the rig, a Louisiana State University professor told federal investigators Friday.

There were also clues that a “kick,” or a pocket of natural gas, was forming in the well about 9 p.m. on April 20, or about 45 minutes before the rig exploded, but the crew apparently didn’t see it, the petroleum engineering professor, John Rogers Smith, said.

Smith said his review of computer records taken in the last 24 hours of operations aboard the oil rig shows that the crew made four attempts to conduct what is known as a “negative pressure test,” which essentially checks to see if the well is sealed tight, and would thus prevent a formation of dangerous natural gas from entering the well and shooting up to the rig. It is believed that natural gas did enter the rig, was sucked into the air intake of an engine, causing an explosion and fire that killed 11 rig workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

“None of the four tests were acceptable tests,” Smith said, meaning that none were completed in an acceptable manner.

Earlier testimony this week has focused on who was responsible for reading the tests and whether the rig’s top officials were competent to evaluate the tests’ results.

“Were industry practices followed in interpreting the negative tests?” asked investigator Jason Mathews of the Department of Interior.

“I would say no,” Smith said.

The testimony was made at a Coast Guard-Interior Department panel, which met in suburban New Orleans this week as it  investigated the cause of the oil spill.

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