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Transocean: BP probe 'self-serving' and misleading

Image: The damaged blowout preventer from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is extracted by the Q4000 vessel from the Gulf of Mexico
The damaged blowout preventer from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is extracted from the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.HO / Reuters
/ Source: staff and news service reports

BP on Wednesday released an internal report blaming itself but also partners for the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill, but its key partner, Transocean Ltd., quickly lashed out, calling it a "self-serving report" that minimized what it said was critical: BP's "fatally flawed" well design.

"This is a self-serving report that attempts to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP's fatally flawed well design," Transocean said in a statement released shortly after BP released its internal review. "In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk — in some cases, severely."

BP was leasing the rig from Transocean and owned the well that blew out on April 20, killing 11 workers and leading to the spewing of 206 million gallons of oil from BP's undersea well.

BP cited eight factors that led to the disaster, but its take was quickly criticized by others.

"This report is not BP's mea culpa," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a frequent BP critic and a member of a congressional panel investigating the spill. "Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece."

Members of Congress, industry experts and workers who survived the rig explosion have accused BP's engineers of cutting corners to save time and money on a project that was 43 days and more than $20 million behind schedule at the time of the blast.

Mark Bly, BP's chief investigator, said at a briefing in Washington that the internal report was a reconstruction of what happened on the rig based on the company's data and interviews with mostly BP employees and was not meant to focus on assigning blame. The six-person investigating panel only had access to a few workers from other companies, and samples of the actual cement used in the well were not released.

Outgoing BP chief Tony Hayward, who is being replaced Oct. 1 by American Bob Dudley, said in a statement that a bad cement job and a failure of a barrier at the bottom of the well let oil and gas leak out.

An AP analysis of the report shows that the words "blame" and "mistake" never show up. "Fault" appears 20 times, but only once in the same sentence as the company's name.

Steve Yerrid, special counsel on the oil spill for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, said the report clearly shows the company is attempting to spread blame for the well disaster, foreshadowing what will be a likely legal effort to force Halliburton and Transocean, and perhaps others, to share costs such as paying claims and government penalties.

"What's you're seeing right now is the format of BP's defense. The defense is, 'We took the initial blow. But it wasn't only me,'" Yerrid said. "They are looking to restore their losses by seeking to attribute components of the wrongdoing to others."

BP's investigation, published before a key piece of evidence — the blowout preventer — has been analyzed, said that multiple companies and work teams contributed to the oil spill that fouled waters and shorelines for months.

In the 193-page report, the British company describes the incident as an accident that arose from a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces.

BP spread the blame around, and even was critical of its own workers' conduct, but it defended the design of its well and it was careful in its assessments. It already faces hundreds of lawsuits and billions of dollars of liabilities. In public hearings, it had already tried to shift some of the blame to rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton.

Some examples from the report where blame is cast elsewhere:

  • "Over a 40-minute period, the Transocean rig crew failed to recognize and act on the influx of hydrocarbons into the well," the report states. A BP spokesman declined comment on whether BP staff were also supposed to be monitoring the pressure. Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell monitor all their wells in real time from central locations.
  • The "unstable" cement mixture used by contractor Halliburton allowed hydrocarbons to leak into the well, the report said.
  • "The investigation team found indications of potential weaknesses in the testing regime and maintenance management system" for the blowout preventer, the report said. The device was manufactured by Cameron International.

For its part, Halliburton said the BP report contained "substantial omissions and inaccuracies."

BP's report is far from the final word on possible causes of the explosion, as several divisions of the U.S. government, including the Justice Department, Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, are also investigating.

Also, a key piece of the puzzle — the blowout preventer that failed to stop the oil from leaking from the well off the Louisiana coast — was raised from the water Saturday. Federal investigators plan to analyze it over the coming months.

Investigators know the explosion was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before igniting.

But they don't know exactly how or why the gas escaped. And they don't know why the blowout preventer didn't seal the well pipe at the sea bottom after the eruption, as it was supposed to.

There were signs of problems prior to the explosion, including an unexpected loss of fluid from a pipe known as a riser five hours before the explosion that could have indicated a leak in the blowout preventer.

Witness statements show that rig workers talked just minutes before the blowout about pressure problems in the well.

At first, nobody seemed too worried, workers have said. Then panic set in.

Workers called their bosses to report that the well was "coming in" and that they were "getting mud back." The drilling supervisor, Jason Anderson, tried to shut down the well.

It didn't work. At least two explosions turned the rig into an inferno.

In its report, BP defended the well's design, which has been criticized by industry experts.

"The investigation team reviewed the decision to install a 97/8 in. x 7 in. long string production casing rather than a 7 in. production liner, which would have been tied back to the wellhead later, and concluded that both options provided a sound basis of design."

Transocean listed what it called risky cost-saving decisions "made exclusively by BP" as having included:

  • "Using a long production string rather than a casing tie back, decreasing the number of barriers to gas flow.
  • "Neglecting to run a cement bond log (CBL) to test the integrity of the cement.
  • "Installing fewer than one third of the recommended number of centralizers, dramatically increasing the risk of cement channeling and gas flow.
  • "Failing to conduct a complete "bottoms up" circulation of the well to insure the quality of the cement seal.
  • "Not running a lockdown sleeve to secure the production string to the well head, eliminating yet another barrier to a blowout."

Transocean concluded by saying its "investigation is ongoing, and will be concluded when all of the evidence is in, including the critical information the company has requested of BP but has yet to receive."