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Gulf oil spill: BP report spreads blame for Deepwater Horizon disaster

September 8, 2010 | 11:17 am

BP blamed a series of mechanical and human failures by its own crews and its contractors for the April 20 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, escalating a blame game that is likely headed to the courts.

The oil company, releasing its long-awaited internal investigation into the gulf disaster Wednesday, accepted a share of the responsibility but also took aim at failures on the part of contractors Transocean and Halliburton for shortcomings such as a "bad cement job" and a failure to spot problems.

"No single factor" caused the disaster that killed 11 workers and unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, the 234-page report says. "A complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces came together to allow the initiation and escalation of accidents." 

BP’s investigative team cited eight problems, including a  pressure test "that was accepted when it should not have been ... weaknesses in the cement design and testing’’ and the failure of the blowout preventer to operate "probably because critical components were not working."

During a 40-minute period before the explosion, the drilling rig crew also "failed to recognize and act on the influx of hydrocarbons into the well," the report says. 

"We have said from the beginning that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a shared responsibility among many entities," BP’s incoming chief executive Bob Dudley said in a statement. 

Transocean, the drilling rig owner, assailed the BP report as "self-serving," contending that BP’s "fatally flawed well design" set the stage for the disaster. BP’s investigate team disputed that well design was a problem.

Halliburton, which did the cementing, said it found a "number of substantial omissions and inaccuracies" in the report and "remains confident that all the work it performed ... was completed in accordance with BP’s specifications for its well construction plan and instructions."

 Reaction to the report from Capitol Hill also was swift.

"This report is not BP’s mea culpa," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  "Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece.’’

The BP report comes as congressional committees, a presidential commission, the Justice Department and other government agencies conduct their own investigations into the disaster. It also is likely to intensify a fight among the companies over liability that could drag on in the courts for years.

More is expected to be known about the disaster now that the blowout preventer has been recovered from the seabed for inspection.

BP officials disputed claims by congressional investigators that the company took shortcuts to save time and money, such as using fewer safety devices, known as centralizers, than recommended by a contractor.

BP’s report recommended 25 measures aimed at preventing a similar catastrophe in the future.  The company is fighting a provision of a House bill that could bar BP from obtaining new U.S. offshore drilling leases based on its safety record. The bill has passed the House but has stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who’s been leading an investigation into the drilling rig explosion, said, "The fact is that there is certainly enough blame to go around. BP ultimately signed off on many of the flawed decisions that led to the Deepwater Horizon explosion which killed 11 people and resulted in the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history.

"At the same time, Transocean had a responsibility to maintain their equipment properly and to operate a safe drilling operation. Likewise, Halliburton had a responsibility to ensure that the cementing process was proper for the conditions of the well and they certainly could have more strongly argued their case if they thought using only six centralizers would result in possible channeling of hydrocarbons," Stupak said.

“Throughout our investigation, we continually heard from each of the companies involved that anyone could stop operations if they had even the slightest concern about safety. The question remains, with so many critical errors, why didn’t anyone step up and refuse to move forward rather than just rolling over and proceeding when they knew there were potentially catastrophic risks in doing so?”

-- Richard Simon in Washington