Nightly News   |  September 06, 2010

Blowout preventer may hold answer to BP spill

The five-story metal mass failed to stop a giant surge of oil and gas that ignited the Deepwater Horizon rig and coated parts of the Gulf in crude for months. As NBC’s Anne Thompson reports, officials are trying to figure out why this supposedly fail-safe device failed so badly.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

KATE SNOW, anchor: And to the other big story in the gulf, of course, what has become a detective story tonight as BP has raised that critical piece of equipment called the blowout preventer from the sea floor. Investigators are trying to figure out how what is supposed to be a fail-safe piece of equipment failed so badly. NBC 's Anne Thompson joins us from New Orleans this evening. Good evening, Anne .

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Kate . I am standing outside NASA 's Michoud Assembly Facility here in New Orleans , and this is where the blowout preventer is going to be brought, and it's where federal investigators will go over that 50-foot tall piece of hardware to try and figure out why it didn't do its job. This one million pound, five-story mass of metal pulled from the Gulf of Mexico may hold the answer to what caused the worst environmental disaster in this nation's history. When it sat on the ocean floor April 20th , the blowout preventer failed to stop a giant surge of oil and gas that ignited the Deepwater Horizon rig and coated parts of the gulf with crude for months.

Mr. BOB CAVNAR (Oil Industry Expert): The first thing that I would look for if I was investigating this was the system failure in the hydraulic control system .

THOMPSON: Bob Cavnar , an oil industry veteran, says giant pinchers inside the blowout preventer called rams should have cut off the pipe and sealed the well. That didn't happen. There are three ways the BOP , the blowout

preventer, can be activated: manually by pressing a button on the rig; through an emergency disconnect system, a different button; and if there are no signals from the rig, a battery powered trigger called the dead-man should take over.

Unidentified Man: Please rise and raise your right hand.

THOMPSON: But at a congressional hearing in May, an embarrassing revelation.

Representative BART STUPAK (Democrat, Energy and Commerce Committee): When one of the control pods was removed and inspected after the spill began, the battery was found to be dead.

THOMPSON: But Cavnar says it's more than just a battery issue. He expects investigators will also focus on alterations to the hydraulic systems that move the rams.

Mr. CAVNAR: The hydraulic systems that control the valves in the blowout preventer should be piped a certain way. If they're not piped a certain way, or if there's a leak, then it should be pretty obvious to the investigators what went wrong.

THOMPSON: Answers sought by the Justice Department and the men and women who make their living working these rigs.

Mr. MARVIN MORRISON (BP Well Site Leader): Everybody's going to understand what has taken place and we'll be able to better, you know, get the oil industry back up and moving again.

THOMPSON: At this point the Justice Department is looking at potential criminal and civil violations, and what investigators find here when they go over the blowout preventer could well determine what, if any, charges are

brought. Kate: Anne Thompson , thank you so

SNOW: