IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

BP spill troubles are far deeper than first thought, panel finds

The troubles that led up to the BP oil spill stretched back years, not just months, a new federal report out Thursday concluded.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

The troubles that led up to the BP oil spill stretched back years, not just months, a new federal report out Thursday concluded.

In a summary of the final report by its chief counsel, the panel commissioned by President Barack Obama said "BP was aware of problems with Halliburton personnel and work product" as far back as 2007. Halliburton was the cement contractor on the well, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and causing the worst spill in U.S. history.

"A consulting firm issued a quality control report warning BP that Halliburton’s lab technicians 'do not have a lot of experience evaluating data,'" the panel said, "and that BP needed to improve communication with Halliburton 'to avoid unnecessary delays or errors in the slurry design testing.'"

"BP’s own cementing expert described the 'typical Halliburton profile' as 'operationally competent and just good enough technically to get by,'" the panel stated. "And BP’s engineers had been forced to 'work around' the Halliburton engineer assigned to Macondo for years — they said that he was 'not cutting it' and that he often waited too long to conduct critical tests.

"But they neither reviewed his work at Macondo carefully, nor even checked to see that he conducted testing in a timely manner," the panel said, "even though they knew that their last minute changes to the cement design test could cause problems and that using nitrogen foamed cement could pose 'significant stability challenges.'"

Halliburton has acknowledged it did not test the stability of the final cement mix used, but it blames BP's well design for the disaster.

The panel also said its counsel found that a BP engineering reorganization in early 2010 "resulted in delays and distractions for the team drilling the Macondo well."

"The BP well team leader wrote his supervisor: 'Everybody wants to do the right thing, but, this huge level of paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos. . . What is my authority?'

The summary also spelled out these missteps in the months, days and hours before the explosion:

  • "BP’s own well site leaders accepted facially implausible explanations for the negative test results" — a reference to the testing of how the well casing and cement job held up under pressure.
  • "Although BP engineers recognized that the Macondo cement job would be a difficult one, and that Halliburton’s engineer was not doing 'quality work,' they did not fully review his cement design."
  • The Transocean crew that ran the Deepwater Horizon rig "missed several signs of a 'kick' — that is, hydrocarbons in the riser — on the night of the blowout."
  • "BP’s well design decisions complicated efforts to cap the well."
  • "Once the Chief Counsel’s team identified serious concerns with Halliburton’s cement slurry design and testing process, Halliburton declined to cooperate with the investigation effort."
  • "BP’s on-duty Well Site Leader was not present during preparations for the critical negative pressure test, and may not have been present during the beginning of the negative pressure test itself."
  • "BP and the Macondo team were aware of ways to carry out its temporary abandonment procedure that could have reduced risk."

Another key finding was that any flaws in the blowout preventer, a huge device meant to cut off any rush of hydrocarbons, were not the root cause of the explosion.

Some Republicans criticized the commission's findings because the panel never examined the blowout preventer, which they say could have possibly contributed to the accident.

The rig crew did not activate the blowout preventer until hydrocarbons had already flowed by it, however, the report said. "Even if the BOP had functioned flawlessly, the rig would have exploded and 11 men would have died," the report said.

"The sad fact is that this was an entirely preventable disaster," the commission's chief counsel, Fred Bartlit, said in a statement. "Poor decisions by management were the real cause."

The panel issued its final report last month, but called this new report a much more detailed look at what went wrong.

While the commission does not have the authority to enact policy or take punitive action, the panel's findings could affect future criminal and civil cases related to the spill.