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Gulf oil spill: Bypassing safety systems was pervasive on rig and fleet, crew member says

July 23, 2010 | 10:17 am
Equipment that could have prevented flammable natural gas from reaching an explosive electrical spark aboard the Deepwater Horizon was disabled, a rig chief engineer technician told federal investigators Friday.
The equipment in question was a pressure regulator valve, which is supposed to automatically cut off the flow of gas at a certain pressure. Operators of a rig never want to see explosive natural gas to billow from the well into the rig.

Mike Williams, a chief engineer technician who worked for rig owner Transocean aboard the Deepwater Horizon, said he at one point repaired the valve to run automatically. But he recalled that he was later chastised by Mark Hay, a sub-sea supervisor for Transocean.

Williams said the supervisor, Hay, lectured him about repairing the valve to run automatically. The valve had been in bypass mode.

“The damn thing has been in bypass for five years. Why did you even mess with it?” Williams recalled Hay telling him. “And he said, ‘As a matter of fact, the entire fleet runs them in bypass.’ ”

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

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