Gulf oil spill: BP gets most blame in government report
BP, Transocean and Halliburton all violated federal safety regulations leading up to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal investigation concluded, in findings that could be crucial for the Justice Department investigation and numerous lawsuits surrounding the disaster.
“The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last‐minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon,” the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management concluded.
The report, released Wednesday, was the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Coast Guard into the causes behind the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig the night of April 20, which killed 11 men and resulted in a leak that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over several months. Each entity did a separate report that the agencies issued jointly Wednesday, but the Ocean Energy Management report delves into the decisions made in the weeks leading up to the disaster and those made that evening that converged to touch off the well blowout and rig explosion.
The report’s conclusions about a global failure to observe the best safety practices and to communicate effectively in such a dangerous undertaking as drilling a deepwater well echoed findings released earlier in the year by a presidential commission investigating the disaster.
That commission criticized the companies for having “a culture of complacency.” Both reports detail the series of poor decisions that eventually culminated in the disaster. After months of hearings with dozens of witnesses, the joint panel found that “a central cause of the blowout was failure of a cement barrier in the production casing string, a high-strength steel pipe set in a well to ensure well integrity and to allow future production.”
Once the barrier, or plug, failed, oil and gas flowed up the well-bore, through the mile-long riser that that rose from the seafloor and onto the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
The panel said it could not determine why the barrier failed, but said that “in the days leading up to April 20, BP made a series of decisions that complicated cementing operations.” In fact, if any entity comes in for particularly sharp criticism in the report, it is BP.
The report said the company was “ultimately responsible” for operations and safety on the rig. It said BP “failed to communicate” key cementing decisions and “the increasing operational risks to Transocean.” Still, the report found that BP and its contractors Transcocean and Halliburton violated at least a half-dozen federal regulations, for which the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would determine further action and penalties.
-- Neela Banerjee in Washington
Photo: Boaters make their way along the edge of the oil slick that formed after an explosion destroyed an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times