BP to blame in explosion, internal documents show

AP

The secret we all knew: BP cut corners days before platform explosion.

BP made a series of money-saving shortcuts and blunders that dramatically increased the danger of a destructive oil spill in a well that an engineer ominously described as a “nightmare” just six days before the blowout, according to documents released Monday that provide new insight into the causes of the disaster.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released dozens of internal documents that outline several problems on the deep-sea rig in the days and weeks before the April 20 explosion that set in motion the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Investigators found that BP was badly behind schedule on the project and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars with each passing day, and responded by cutting corners in the well design, cementing and drilling mud efforts and the installation of key safety devices.

“Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense. If this is what happened, BP’s carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig,” said Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Bart Stupak.

The missteps emerged on the same day that President Barack Obama made his fourth visit to the Gulf, where he sought to assure beleaguered residents that the government will “leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.”

Obama’s two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida represents his latest attempt to persevere through a crisis that has served as an important early test of his presidency. The visit coincides with a national address from the Oval Office on Tuesday night in which he will announce new steps to restore the Gulf Coast ecosystem, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president’s announcements.

“I can’t promise folks … that the oil will be cleaned up overnight. It will not be,” Obama said after encouraging workers in hard hats as they hosed off and repaired oil-blocking boom. “It’s going to be painful for a lot of folks.”

But, he said, “things are going to return to normal.”

The breached well has dumped as much as 114 million gallons of oil into the Gulf under the worst-case scenario described by scientists — a rate of more than 2 million a day. BP has collected 5.6 million gallons of oil through its latest containment cap on top of the well, or about 630,000 gallons per day.

But BP believes it will see considerable improvements in the next two weeks. The company said Monday that it could trap a maximum of roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil each day by the end of June as it deploys additional containment efforts, including a system that could start burning off vast quantities as early as Tuesday. That would more than triple the amount of oil it is currently capturing — and be a huge relief for those trying to keep it from hitting the shore.

“It would be a game changer,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mark Boivin, deputy director for near-shore operations at a command center in Mobile. He works with a team that coordinates the efforts of roughly 80 skimming boats gathering oil off the coast.

Still, BP warned its containment efforts could face problems if hoses or pipes clog and engineers struggle to run the complicated collection system. Early efforts at the bottom of the Gulf failed to capture oil.

Meanwhile, congressional investigators have identified several mistakes by BP in the weeks leading up to the disaster as it fell way behind on drilling the well.

BP started drilling in October, only to have the rig damaged by Hurricane Ida in early November. The company switched to a new rig, the Deepwater Horizon, and resumed drilling on Feb. 6. The rig was 43 days late for its next drilling location by the time it exploded April 20, costing BP at least $500,000 each day it was overdue, congressional documents show.

As BP found itself in a frantic race against time to get the job done, engineers took several time-saving measures, according to congressional investigators.

In the design of the well, the company apparently chose a riskier option among two possibilities to provide a barrier to the flow of gas in space surrounding steel tubes in the well, documents and internal e-mails show. The decision saved BP $7 million to $10 million; the original cost estimate for the well was about $96 million.

In an e-mail, BP engineer Brian Morel told a fellow employee that the company is likely to make last-minute changes in the well.

“We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place,” Morel wrote.

The e-mail chain culminated with the following message by another worker: “This has been a crazy well for sure.”

BP also apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor, Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton’s recommendation to use 21 “centralizers” to make sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore. Instead, BP used six centralizers.

In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: “It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like this.” Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: “Who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.”

The lawmakers also said BP also decided against a nine- to 12-hour procedure known as a “cement bond log” that would have tested the integrity of the cement. A team from Schlumberger, an oil services firm, was on board the rig, but BP sent the team home on a regularly scheduled helicopter flight the morning of April 20.

Less than 12 hours later, the rig exploded.

BP also failed to fully circulate drilling mud, a 12-hour procedure that could have helped detect gas pockets that later shot up the well and exploded on the drilling rig.

Asked about the details disclosed from the investigation, BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company’s main focus right now is on the response and stopping the flow of oil. “It would be inappropriate for us to comment while an investigation is ongoing,” Proegler told AP. BP executives including CEO Tony Hayward will be questioned by Congress on Thursday.

The letter from Waxman and Stupak noted at least five questionable decisions BP made before the explosion, and was supplemented by 61 footnotes and dozens of documents.

“The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed a trade-off between cost and well safety,” said Waxman and Stupak. Waxman, D-Calif., chairs the energy panel while Stupak, D-Mich., heads a subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

British Petroleum Disaster: An Insider’s Account

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JUNE 13, 2010

As The Real Agenda has reported, the Gulf of Mexico’s oil spill goes beyond a few thousand gallons a day and chemical dispersants.

Oil industry insiders who have revealed first-hand information that could make the manliest human being tremble like jello.  The most prominent of these insiders, Pastor Lindsey Williams, who worked closely with heads of the oil industry for several years, appeared on talk radio to share his testimony on what is really going on in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  The details are neither easy nor pleasant to understand.

Williams’ account begins with what a former oil industry CEO told him with regard to the Deep Water Horizon disaster.  According to him, the reason for the oil disaster was that BP may have drilled into something known as a batholith, which is a gigantic well usually filled with magma, but that this time seemed to be full of crude.  After drilling into the chamber, the pressure was so high that the Deepwater Horizon’s platform and its structure, weren’t able to withstand it causing the explosion and the consequent disaster.  Why didn’t the platform sustain the pressure generated from the crude coming out?  Pressures experienced after drilling an oil well vary, but maximum numbers usually hit 1500 pounds of pressure per square inch.  In the case of the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the pressure reached up to 70,000 pounds of natural pressure per square inch.  Williams said: “No structure built by man could have withstood such force.”  Does this mean the explosion was an accident?  Not necessarily.  As we have reported, Deepwater Horizon workers said in their testimony that BP’s heads knew of the lack of capacity the platform had to take on the well’s pressure, but forced the workers to continue the drilling process.  He added that the kind of oil contained in the gigantic well is not of the fossil type, but of another one known as Abiotic oil.  This oil is produced during chemical processes, deep down into the Earth’s core.  Williams said some of the most important oil deposits in the world are replenishing themselves through this process and therefore the peak oil idea is false.  On this side topic, Pastor Williams is supported by what can be called the Russian oil rush.  In the last few years, Russia has dug at least three oil wells such as the one apparently found in the Gulf of Mexico down to depths of 20,000 to 30,000 feet into the ground.  Other projects of the sort are located closer to the United States than anyone could think.  Just as Russia dug such deep wells on land, the United States granted BP permission to dig a 5,000 feet deep well in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Big mistake says Williams.  The fact the drilling was being done from a floating platform, only stabilized by propellers, may have played a determinant role on what happened next.

During the interview, Williams said that two sources from British Petroleum confirmed that not only had the company gone down 5,000 feet to the sea floor through sea water, but had drilled 25,000 feet into the sea bed down to the Earth’s crust.  His sources also confirmed that 3 hours before the explosion, BP had sent executives, geologists and other personnel to the region in order to witnessed what the result of the drilling would be.  Williams emphasized that the explosion was not done on purpose, but that it was all an accident due to the unexpected pressure that came together with the abiotic oil.  “The pressure was so great that no human manufactured device could have stopped the flow,” said Williams.  He also confirmed through his BP sources the allegation that BP high-ups collaborated in a way with the accident.  “A platform worker told the foreman that the fail safe valve was broken and needed to be replaced, but the foreman replied there was no time for that.”

Another of Mr. Williams’ revelations was that the leak of crude oil from the sea bed of the Gulf of Mexico is not spewing thousands or hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, but millions of gallons a day.  He said his oil industry source confirm what other independent sources have claimed: “that the oil spill is letting out between 4 and 5 million gallons of crude a day.”  The explosion the Pastor said during an interview on the Alex Jones Show, caused the sea bed to turn unstable, and that is why there are more than a few leaks down there.  Williams was told there were oil leaks as far as 20 miles away from the location where the Deepwater Horizon structure once stood.  He was fast to address one of the options some people have suggested as a solution to end the oil leak: To nuke the place in order to stop the crude from coming into the Gulf’s waters.  He said his source confessed this may be the only option to stop the disaster once and for all, but that given the degree of difficulty of such operation, there was a big enough chance the explosion of a nuclear device would make the problem worse.  If not done correctly and precisely, the explosion could further destabilize the well and cause a major collapse that would release greater amounts of oil which could not be stopped.

How does Mr. Williams knows this?  As mentioned before, his source, a former oil industry Chief Executive Officer, provided him with this and other information for the past few years.  Why should we believe what he says?  His track record has been immaculate so far.  Pastor Williams appeared on radio shows several times detailing -beforehand- the rise and fall of oil prices, the devaluation of the dollar, the food crisis, and the fake oil scarcity agenda the oil industry has planted in the public’s mind.  All of this before it happened.

birds

Marine life, birds and humans will have to live with the consequences of the spill for years to come.

One of the questions raised during the interview was what else besides the oil is coming out of the oil gushers?  At the beginning of the disaster, it was thought the oil was accompanied by mud only, but now, just as the numbers of the leak have changed, the account of what is flowing into the ocean along with the crude has also changed.  It seems the oil leak is not the biggest problem at hand.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the existence of multiple plumes on the sea floor and these very plumes are releasing toxic gases that are ultimately the greatest danger for marine and human life.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed NOAA’s findings after carrying out independent tests of the underwater plumes.

According to the EPA report, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)are being emitted from the bottom of the ocean in amounts never seen before.  Below is the transcript of the report where it cites the VOC’s present, the levels at which they are safe for humans, and the amounts that were detected in the studies the EPA performed.  The

1. Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) emitted at a rate of 1,200 parts per billion(ppb) into the water and the air afterwards, once it surfaces.  Levels considered “safe” for humans round 5-10 ppb;

2. Benzene (C6H6) emitted at a rate of 3,000 ppb.  Human “safe” levels are said to be around 0-4 ppb

3. Methylene Chloride or dichloromethane CH2Cl2, emitted at a rate of 3,400 ppb.  Human tolerance is established to levels below 61 ppb.

Other gases cited during the interview as being emitted from the spill include vanadium, which according to our research is, in its pure form, a greyish silvery, soft and ductile metal used as an alloy in the manufacturing of cars.  According to the Mineral Information Institute, “it is found in magnetite (iron oxide) deposits that are also very rich in the element titanium. It is also found in bauxite (aluminum ore), rocks with high concentrations of phosphorous-containing minerals, and sandstones that have high uranium content.” It has 2 isotopes that occur naturally.  One of the isotopes is stable and one is radioactive.

The emission of these gases into the water and later into the air people breathe indeed confirms a nefarious slow-paced genocide of marine life and human life.  If exposure to low levels of benzene causes dizziness, and organ failure, imagine what it is doing and what it will do to people exposed to it at the concentration levels read by the studies made by the EPA.  Deformities, cancer, respiratory problems are just a few of the problems people will face in the short and long run due to exposure to benzene, hydrogen sulfide, methylene chloride and who knows what else is coming out of deep beneath the sea floor.  Suddenly, the disaster seems to move from ecological and marine  to the very survival of the people who leave on the coast of Louisiana, Florida, and possibly the whole East Coast of the United States.

To all this we can add, as the media has reported, that Goldman Sachs sold 44 percent of its BP stock just three days before the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon platform.  Additionally, Tony Hayward -BP’s CEO- also sold a third of his own shares right before the accident occurred for a total of 1.4 million pounds.  In the meantime, fishers and other workers who are now helping with the cleaning efforts reported sickness after being in and on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  As channel 6, WSDU, reported, workers are experiencing illness, strong stomachache, respiratory problems, coughing and other symptoms of intoxication due to the inhalation of fumes from both the chemicals and the gases emanating from the waters.

U.S. Senate Also Covering-up Oil spill

Global Research

On Tuesday, the US senate began hearings into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which took the lives of 11 workers in an April 20oil spillexplosion and has since poured millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the region with an environmental and economic catastrophe.

Appearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the morning and the Environmental and Public Health Committee in the afternoon were executives from the three corporations implicated in the disaster: Lamar McKay, president of the US operations of BP, which owned the oil and the drill site; Steven Newman, president of Transocean, the contractor that owned the rig and employed most of its workers; and Tim Probert, an executive with Halliburton, which contracted for the work of cementing the rig’s wellhead one mile beneath ocean’s surface.

The hearing resembled a falling out among thieves, with multi-millionaire executives—who, until April 20, had collaborated in thwarting basic safety and environmental considerations—each blaming the other for the explosion.

McKay of BP blamed Transocean. “Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and its equipment, including the blowout preventer,” he said. “Transocean’s blowout preventer failed to operate.” Newman flatly denied that the blowout preventer was responsible for the disaster, shifting blame to BP, which he said controlled the operation, and Halliburton, which was responsible for the cementing around the well cap. “The one thing we know with certainty is that on the evening of April 20 there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing, or both,” Newman said. Probert of Halliburton pushed back, indicating that BP and Transocean had moved forward operations before cementing was adequately set.

There was, in fact, some harmony between the accounts offered by the executives of Halliburton and Transocean, both of whom appeared to suggest that BP ordered the skipping of a usual step in offshore drilling—the placing of a cement plug inside the well to hold explosive gases in place. That this step was passed over was corroborated by two workers on the rig, who spoke to the Wall Street Journal on condition of anonymity. The workers also told the Journal that BP first cleared the decision with the US Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS). Both BP and the MMS refused comment to the Journal.

Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineering professor, has gathered testimony from Deepwater Horizon survivors that indicates the rig was hit by major bursts of natural gas, promoting fears of an explosion just weeks before the April 20 blast, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. This raised concerns about whether mud at the well head should be replaced by much lighter seawater prior to installation of a concrete plug. The decision to proceed won out, according to information gathered by Bea.

Whatever the immediate cause of the disaster, the clear thrust of the hearings was to focus public outrage on a single, correctable “mistake,” such as a mechanical failure or regulatory oversight, in order to obscure the more fundamental reasons for the disaster: the decades-long gutting of regulation carried out by both Republicans and Democrats at the behest of the oil industry that made such a catastrophe all but inevitable.

A similar calculation lay behind Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Tuesday announcement that the MMS, which ostensibly regulates offshore oil drilling, will be split into two units—one that collects the estimated $13 billion in annual royalties from the nation’s extractive industries, and one that enforces safety and environmental regulations. Salazar’s claim that this would eliminate “conflicts of interest” in government regulation was nervy, to say the least, coming from a man with long-standing and intimate ties with oil and mining concerns, including BP.

Indeed, more farcical than the executives’ recriminations against each other was the spectacle of senators attempting to pose as tough critics of the oil industry. The US Senate, like the House of Representatives, the Department of the Interior, and the White House, is for all intents and purposes on the payroll of BP and the energy industry as a whole. Among the senators sitting on the two committees who have received tens of thousands in campaign cash from BP and the oil industry are Richard Shelby (Republican, Alabama), Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana), John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Lisa Murkowski (Republican, Alaska).

One of the few truthful moments in the hearings came when an exasperated Murkowski told the executives, “I would suggest to all three of you that we are all in this together.” Murkowski and Landrieu also expressed concerns that the disaster could compromise offshore drilling.

None with even a passing familiarity of the workings of Washington or the Senate can have any doubt that Tuesday’s hearings were but the opening of a government whitewash. The ultimate aim is to shield the major industry players and the financial interests that stand behind them from any serious consequences.

The assemblage of the guilty parties inside the Senate chambers took place as ruptured pipes on the ocean floor continued to gush forth oil at a rate conservatively estimated at 220,000 gallons per day some 40 miles off Louisiana’s coast. The rate could be many times greater, but arriving at a more accurate estimate is impossible because BP has refused to release its underwater video footage for independent analysis.

BP, which is liable for cleanup costs, has all but admitted it has no idea of how to stop the leak. Its attempt last weekend to lower a four story box over the piping failed when ice crystals clogged a portal at the structure’s roof, a result that was widely anticipated. BP is now considering lowering a much smaller box in order to avoid icing. US Coast Guard and BP representatives have also floated the idea of a “junk shot,” firing golf balls, tire shreds, and other refuse at high pressure into the well.

The drilling of two relief wells continues, with the aim of disrupting the flow of oil from the current well. This option will take a minimum of 90 days, during which 18 million gallons more oil will pour out at the low-end estimate. Even this option provides no certainty. “The risks include unpredictable weather, since the wells will be operational at the start of hurricane season,” according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. “The wells are also being drilled into the same mix of oil and gas that caused the original explosion, and operating two wells in the area creates the potential of igniting a second explosion that is more powerful.”

If the spill cannot be stopped—a distinct possibility—the ruptured well could release a large share of the deposit’s underground reserves into the Gulf of Mexico, which totals upwards of 100 million barrels of crude oil. And even if the spill is stopped at a lesser volume, with each day there is a growing probability that the oil will devastate the entire Gulf from Louisiana to Florida and possibly reach the Gulf Stream, impacting the Atlantic seaboard.

In the interim, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given BP clearance to resume pumping chemical dispersants into the oil column as it emerges from the broken piping. BP also continues to dump large quantities of dispersant onto the ocean’s surface. The environmental impact of such heavy use of dispersants is unknown, but a growing number of scientists and environmental groups are warning that the highly toxic substance could simply be transferring the brunt of the spill from the shore to marine ecosytems.

“The companies love the idea of using a chemical to spray on an oil slick to sink it,” Rick Steiner, a former professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Alaska, told the World Socialist Web Site. “It’s ‘out of sight out of mind’ as far as the public is concerned because TV cameras can’t see it. This is the big oil company playbook: public relations, litigation protection, and image.”

Oil has now washed ashore in three places: the Chandeleur Islands off Louisana’s coast, on the coast of a navigable channel from the Mississippi River known as the “South Pass,” and on Alabama’s Dauphin Island. Fishing has been blocked over a wide area, effectively imposing layoffs on thousands of fishermen, many of whom are self-employed and therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. Sightings of birds covered in oil and dead sea turtles washed ashore have increased in recent days.

In his testimony, McKay boasted that BP would make available “grants of $25 million to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida,” and that it has paid out approximately $3.5 million in damage claims to those affected by the spill. These figures, presented as an act of enormous magnanimity, are such a tiny share of BP’s revenues as to be almost inconsequential.

The company took home $93 million per day in profits—for a total of $6.1 billion—during the first quarter alone. The $3.5 million in damage claims paid out are significantly less than CEO Tony Hayward’s 2009 compensation, estimated at over $4,700,000 by Forbes.