Commission Report Reveals BP Spill Threat Not Taken Seriously

Author // Protect American Energy Workers
Posted in // Blog

By Harry C. Alford

The presidentially appointed Oil Spill Commission’s most recent report on the problems aboard the Deepwater Horizon leading to the April 20th explosion described the incident as “an entirely preventable disaster.” While this conclusion is common knowledge for other offshore players in the oil and gas industry – who have successfully drilled over 50,000 wells in the Gulf alone – it appears to be news in our nation’s capital. Washington insider publication The Hill reported on the new report concerning BP’s rogue operating strategies in the Gulf yesterday:

BP employee email traffic captured in the report sheds light upon an extremely dysfunctional chain of command, a stressed workforce, and an alarmingly uninformed management team. It’s clear from these e-mails that this disaster was due to bad operations from a single actor — not, as some had suggested, a systemic industry problem.  From the report:

(T)he pace and number of last-minute changes at Macondo apparently prompted (BP wells team leader John) Guide to write the following email to (BP engineering team leader David) Sims on the morning of April 17, just three days before the blowout:

David, over the past four days there has been so many last minute changes to the operation that the WSL‘s (well site leaders) have finally come to their wits end. The quote is ―flying by the seat of our pants. Moreover, we have made a special boat or helicopter run every day.

Everybody wants to do the right thing, but, this huge level of paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos. This operation is not Thunderhorse. Brian has called me numerous times to make sense of all the insanity. Last night‘s emergency evolved around 30 bbls [barrels] of cement spacer behind the top plug and how it would affect any bond logging (I do not agree with putting the spacer above the plug to begin with). This morning Brian called me and asked my advice about exploring other opportunities both inside and outside of the company.

Rather than react with alarm or stop work on the rig, Sims wrote back:

John, I‘ve got to go to dance practice in a few minutes. Let‘s talk this afternoon.

For now, and until this well is over, we have to try to remain positive and remember what you said below – everybody wants to do the right thing. The WSLs will take their cue from you. If you tell them to hang in there and we appreciate them working through this with us (12 hours a day for 14 days) – they will. It should be obvious to all that we could not plan ahead for the well conditions we‘re seeing, so we have to accept some level of last minute changes.

We‘ve both [been] in Brian‘s position before. The same goes for him. We need to remind him that this is a great learning opportunity, it will be over soon, and that the same issues – or worse – exist anywhere else. I don‘t think anything has changed with respect to engineering and operations. Mark and

Mark and Brian write the program based on discussion/direction from you and our best engineering practices. If we had more time to plan this casing job, I think all this would have been worked out before it got to the rig. If you don‘t agree with something engineering related, and you and Gregg can‘t come to an agreement, Jon or me gets involved. If it‘s purely operational, it‘s your call.

I‘ll be back soon and we can talk,

We‘re dancing to the Village People!

If this poor management team had not lead to numerous deaths and incalculable environmental and economic damage to an entire region of the U.S., it might be comical. The report also includes an email exchange regarding structural problems with the well between BP vice president of drilling and completions Pat O‘Bryan and an employee aboard the rig. Also from the report:

 I believe there is a bladder effect on the mud below an annular preventer as we discussed. As we know the pressure differential was approximately 1400-1500 psi across an 18 ¾″ rubber annular preventer, 14.0 SOBM plus 16.0 ppg [pounds per gallon] Spacer in the riser, seawater and SOBM below the annular bladder. Due to a bladder effect, pressure can and will build below the annular bladder due to the differential pressure but cannot flow – the bladder prevents flow, but we see differrential pressure on the other side of the bladder.

Now consider this. The bladder effect is pushing 1400-1500 psi against all of the mud below, we have displaced to seawater from 8,367′ to just below the annular bladder where we expect to have a 2,350 psi negative pressure differential pressure due to a bladder effect we may only have a 850-950 psi negative pressure until we lighten the load in the riser.

When we displaced the riser to seawater, then we truly had a 2,350 psi differential and negative pressure.

O‘Bryan responded to the forwarded email as follows:





It thus appears that, had (BP well site leader Bob) Kaluza brought the bladder effect explanation to O’Bryan’s attention on April 20, events likely would have turned out differently.

Offshore drilling in the U.S. is a serious business that puts dedicated and hard working people in harm’s way to extract the energy we need to drive our cars, light our schools, and heat our homes. The neglect for safety concerns displayed in these email chains is unacceptable. As a result of this failure to take life and death matters seriously at a management level, 11 people are dead and over 20,000 people have lost their jobs in the Gulf region. Oil and gas industry professional companies ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips have now created a well capping system capable of stopping a deep sea leak should such a disaster be perpetrated again. But what this new report has revealed makes it overly obvious that these events are easily avoidable if the wells are in the right hands. Unfortunately, the Macondo well was not.

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