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Gulf oil spill: BP not learning from disasters, investigator charges

Key decisions aboard the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico were made by at least three people -- a confusing tangle of responsibility that made it virtually impossible for decisive leadership, a lead investigator said Wednesday.

The investigator, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen, also voiced dismay Wednesday at a federal hearing in Houston that a top BP executive could not articulate any lessons learned from previous deadly oil refinery and drilling disasters over the last two decades.

Nguyen has repeatedly articulated his disbelief at what he characterized as a murky command structure. He said key commands made aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig weren’t made by a single commander but by a trio -- the captain and a manager, both employees of rig owner Transocean, and a well-site leader from BP, which leased the rig.

“I just don’t see how everything gets coordinated,” Nguyen said. “International regulations identify one person in charge that is accountable for and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel. ... Especially when we go into an emergency phase, it might be difficult to have an effective response.”

Panelists this week have focused on doubts about who was in charge during the disaster.“A lot of questions have been asked about who was in charge on board the Deepwater Horizon. Are you aware of that, sir?” Nguyen asked Harry Thierens, a London-based BP vice president for drilling operations.

“No,” Thierens said.

Then, when Nguyen asked Thierens if he could articulate any lessons learned from several previous deadly oil refinery and drilling disasters over the last two decades, Thierens said he could not recall them.

Nguyen expressed frustration at how a top BP drilling executive failed to answer basic questions about performing safer drilling operations.

Nguyen said many of the problems observed on the Deepwater Horizon were found aboard the Piper Alpha, an oil production platform that exploded in the North Sea in 1988, killing 167 men.

Nguyen questioned whether oil industry executives took it as a given that major loss of life on oil rigs is inevitable.

“Is it something that, you know, people say that this kind of casualty happens every 20 years?” Nguyen said. “This is what I’m seeing. There’s a lot of things that were identified 20 years ago that are still happening, right here, with the Deepwater Horizon.”

Thierens said he wasn't able to give his opinion to Nguyen because the investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster was incomplete. He also said that because he does not have a “thorough understanding of the chain of command,” he couldn’t offer an opinion on that subject.

Nguyen was dissatisfied by that response.

“If I go to [the Transocean or BP CEOs] and I am getting the same answer, that is not a good thing. Someone has got to be in charge. And someone has got to have an overall picture of what’s going on of not only the vessel, but for the entire whole company operation and the industry,” Nguyen said. “I just don't have that clear picture in my mind.”

Nguyen questioned whether BP was learning from the Deepwater Horizon disaster and asked if the company  had done an exercise since the April 20 disaster to see how it would respond to a future well blowout.

“I don’t know,” Thierens said.

Nguyen recalled earlier testimony from two top officials with rig owner Transocean who were confused about which company or agency took the lead in firefighting efforts after the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

“There’s confusion,” Nguyen said. “You’ve operated in the Gulf of Mexico before. Do you have any recommendations in terms of improvement to marine firefighting for oil exploration and offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?”

“I’m not capable of forming an opinion on that,” Thierens said.

Thierens also testified that he was not notified of changes made in the blowout preventer, a key safety device on the ocean floor designed to snap shut the pipe funneling oil from below.

The unexpected alterations hampered efforts to take control of the gushing well, Thierens said.

“I ... was astonished this could have happened,” Thierens said, reading from his journal. “When I heard this news, I lost all faith in this [blowout preventer].”

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Houston
 
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Were I a stockholder in BP I would demand that VP of Drilling Operations Thierens be fired for gross incompetence and denied all financial severance. He is clearly incompetent or he is lying. It is one or the other.

The fact that BP doesn't learn from disasters is simply part of their corporate scheme to put profits ahead of safety. This has happened repeatedly in the operation of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, where BP is the major owner. Employees who try to bring safety concerns to BP's attention are often outcast, demoted or fired. They bet that the company might get away with more profits rather than spending the rather small sums of money needed to prevent safety problems. In almost every case where there has been a spill or other serious safety breach, BP first denies, then blows PR smoke until the main story dies down, then gradually admits the mistake and says things will be better in the future. Apply this template of error to the gulf and look at the similarities.

Obama’s xenophobic ranting ignores the fact that BP was forced to drill in such deep waters because he banned drilling nearer the shore for reasons of political expediency. America’s profligate use of oil and paranoid need “energy security” mean that deep water drilling will be essential far into the future. Every President since Nixon has pledged that the US will become self-sufficient in energy so no-one should be holding their breath waiting for that to happen. The reality is that BP is more technically skilled than any other company at deep water drilling and it has pulled off a miracle in capping the leak so quickly at such a depth. Finally Hayward was absolutely right to say that oil clears itself up since it is organic material and the long term damage will be done by Obama’s hysterical clean-up.

13.3 ppm of COREXIT found INLAND, near Florida border — Chemist says tests show “toxic solvent” 2-butoxyethanol that “RUPTURES red blood cells” (VIDEO & PHOTOS)
Tags:

* GULF OIL DISASTER

[Cotton Bayou, Ala. resident] Margaret Long… first got suspicious when she saw something in the water she had never seen before. She even took photographs, “Some times it’s about the size of a half dollar. Some times it streams along and its like floating sand.”

She got samples and sent them to chemist Bob Naman in Mobile whose tests results show 13.3 ppm of the chemical dispersant corexit. …

“It concerns me,” says Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon. …

“There is an anger yes, very much an anger. I fear what the long term affects are going to be.” Her only question now is what will be done about it.

The Santa Barbara Oil Spill that lasted several months happened almost one year before our world's first Earth Day in 1970. The purpose of Earth Day was to teach ways to prevent the escalating degradation of our environment. There are no positive signs of the world's oil companies winding down their own demand for fossil fuels and gasoline. They might have opted to be the first to create modified refineries that would produce ethanol or biofuel. The industry seems hooked on petroleum as it attempts to secure richer oil fields for increasing oil and gasoline production. The Exxon Valdez disaster destroyed the cod fishing industry in Alaska and caused genetic damage in the Chickadee that now has a congenitally twisted beak. The Deep-sea Horizon of BP has destroyed the shrimp and crustacean fisheries and related industries near the Gulf of Mexico; consequently, the adjacent seas will yield diseased organisms. There are now ethanol or biofuel refineries in the United States and some states are using a blend of gasoline and ethanol. In the United States, ethanol is used as an additive to reduce emissions though some foreign nations are using pure ethanol to help save our environment from degradation. Ethanol is good fuel that has existed before the first Earth Day in 1970. The oil companies did not jump on an opportunity to be the first ones to build biofuel refineries and gradually phase out the gasoline industry.

“Is it something that, you know, people say that this kind of casualty happens every 20 years?” Nguyen said. “This is what I’m seeing. There’s a lot of things that were identified 20 years ago that are still happening, right here, with the Deepwater Horizon.”

Thierens said he wasn't able to give his opinion to Nguyen because the investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster was incomplete. He also said that because he does not have a “thorough understanding of the chain of command,” he couldn’t offer an opinion on that subject.

Couldn't offer an opinion as to whether deadly rig disasters every twenty years or so are an acceptable "cost of doing business" for BP? This exchange sounds like something right out of "The Yes Men Fix the World", a movie in which two guys publicly (and humorously) expose corporate America for the moral and ethical vacuum it is. Obviously, we can add multinational corporations to the mix as well.

Business executives are no different than children. What everyone understands is pain and suffering, which is why spanking is an effective tool for disciplining one's children. Imagine how far one would get as a parent if instead of spanking your child, you fined your child, and paid the fine with money from your own pocket. Think the kid will learn anything from that? Well that's what happens when businesses run afoul of regulators. The regulators levy a afine which the business pays with its stockholders money. The executives who made the decision aren't punished at all and so they continue to behave badly.
It all goes back to parenting: spare the rod and spoil the child.


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