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Gulf oil spill: BP criticized for cheaper, faster well option

July 22, 2010 |  3:56 pm

A federal investigator hammered a top BP official Thursday on why BP chose to implement cheaper, quicker options to finish and seal an oil well rather than more expensive options that offer more protection against oil and gas compromising the well casings.

One example cited by Jason Mathews, an investigator with an arm of the Department of Interior, was BP’s decision to save $7 million to $10 million by using a single pipe, or stringer, to form the center of the well instead of a more conventional design of stacked double pipes. Experts have said a more conventional design might have prevented disaster by barring a pocket of natural gas from shooting up the well uncontrollably into the rig.

An internal BP document said the single pipe design represented the “best economic case.”

Another example was the decision to skip an extra test, called a “cement bond log,” to detect problems in the sealing of the well, which saved $118,000. A team that was on the rig to conduct that test was sent home, without performing the test, before the disaster.

BP team leader John Guide, the supervisor of the BP’s two top officials aboard the rig, asserted that when safety is concerned, cost savings is never a consideration in making a decision on whether to complete or skip a procedure.

The testimony was made at a hearing in suburban New Orleans of a Coast Guard-Interior Department investigation probing the cause of the oil spill, the largest in recent U.S. history.

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