Monday, September 20, 2010
A worker cleans up oily waste on the coast of an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of workers are cleaning up oil from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead that reached the shore a month after the ultra-deepwater oil rig exploded, killing 11 people.
The Deepwater Horizon is dead. Almost five months after an explosion rocked an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana and caused a natural disaster on a scale not seen before, BP yesterday announced that that the well has been completely shut off. Thad W. Allen, the former Coast Guard admiral who is heading up the response to the oil spill on behalf of the U.S. government said in a statement that the well now “poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico.” He also released a U.S. goverment department’s confirmation of the news. “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has confirmed that the cementing operation on the Macondo well was successful, that the well has been permanently sealed with cement plugs, and that pressure tests verify the integrity of the plugs,” it read. BP released a statement, describing the sealing of the well as “a significant technological accomplishment and another important milestone in our continued efforts to restore the Gulf Coast.”
Early on Sunday morning, those aboard Development Driller III drill rig, which aided in the shutting down of the well, successfully conducted a pressure test, and concluded that cement pumped through a relief well into the Macondo well was going to hold. The tests concluded that the cement finally put an end to an environmental disaster that has affected BP, the wildlife on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the hundreds of people who make their living by fishing in the area. Forrest Travirca, who lives in Louisiana, said he was very angry with the response by BP and the authorities. “All the brown spots and patches you’ll see on this beach for the next nine miles is oil, too… And if you dig down a few inches or a few feet, you’ll see oil, too. And if you walk into that marsh back there, you’ll find oil,” he said. “So don’t tell me we dodged any bullets. Or that it wasn’t so bad. ‘Cause I’ve been out there every day since May dealing with all that oil we dodged. It just makes my blood boil.”
Admiral Allen admitted that the disaster was far from over. “Although the well is now dead, we remain committed to continue aggressive efforts to clean up any additional oil we may see going forward,” he said, adding that the response, lead by his team and BP “has been driven by the best science and engineering available. We insisted that BP develop robust redundancy measures to ensure that each step was part of a deliberate plan, driven by science, minimizing risk to ensure we did not inflict additional harm in our efforts to kill the well. I commend the response personnel, both from the government and private sectors, for seeing this vital procedure through to the end.”
The spill began in April, when Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing eleven people, after the blowout preventer failed. Oil began to leak into the Gulf, soon developing into the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. 4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, causing damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. Extensive measures were used to prevent the oil from reaching the coastline of Louisiana, including skimmer ships, floating containment booms, anchored barriers, and sand-filled barricades. Scientists have also reported immense underwater plumes of dissolved oil not visible at the surface. The U.S. Government has named BP as the responsible party, and officials have committed to holding the company accountable for all cleanup costs and other damage.
BP released their internal review into the spill last week, but it was rebuffed by the head of Greenpeace‘s energy campaign, Jim Footner, who said that it was “highly likely that a truly independent report would be even more damning for BP.” However, he said, “the real problem is our addiction to oil, which is pushing companies like BP to put lives and the environment at risk. The age of oil is coming to an end and companies like BP will be left behind unless they begin to adapt now. The time has come to move beyond oil and invest in clean energy.” The report concludes by stating that decisions made by “multiple companies and work teams” contributed to the accident which it says arose from “a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces.” In their statement, BP said that they “will continue sharing what we have learned in an effort to prevent a tragedy like this from ever being repeated. We also believe that the industry will gain important insights on how to be better prepared to respond to any future incidents.”
Friday, September 10, 2010
In their report on the disaster, BP shifts a large proportion of the blame to other contractors, including Transocean and Halliburton. The report was likely written with the company’s legal liability for the disaster in a prominent position. The executive summary is four and a half pages long—and the first page is made up entirely of legal disclaimers—if BP was found to be negligent in their operations of the rig, they could be fined a good deal more.
BP released their report into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster earlier this year on Wednesday, and shifted much of the blame for the explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, onto Transocean, the company managing the rig. The report concludes by stating that decisions made by “multiple companies and work teams” contributed to the accident which it says arose from “a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces.” The report, the product of a four-month investigation conducted by BP’s Head of Safety Operations, Mark Bly, criticizes the oil rig’s fire prevention systems, the crew of the rig for failing to realize and act upon evidence that oil was leaking from the surface of the ocean, and describes how BP and Transocean “incorrectly accepted” negative pressure test results. The document goes on to note that the blow-out preventer failed to operate, likely because critical components were not operational.
Bob Dudley, who will become chief executive of BP, described the accident as “tragic”. He said, “we have said from the beginning that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a shared responsibility among many entities. This report makes that conclusion even clearer, presenting a detailed analysis of the facts and recommendations for improvement both for BP and the other parties involved. We have accepted all the recommendations and are examining how best to implement them across our drilling operations worldwide.” The report included 25 recommendations, according to a press release, “designed to prevent a recurrence of such an accident.” The oil company has previously blamed Transocean and Halliburton, the well contractor, for the disaster and BP executives feel they have been unfairly blamed by US politicians for the disaster, and the report continues this view.
Tony Hayward, who was fired from the position of BP’s chief executive following multiple public relations issues, squarley places the blame for the disaster on Halliburton. “To put it simply, there was a bad cement job,” he said in a statement, also claiming that BP should not be the only company to take the blame for the explosion. “It would appear unlikely that the well design contributed to the incident,” he argues. The report blames the type of cement used by Halliburton, designed to prevent harmful hydrocarbons from reaching the seabed, as well as criticizing the crew of Deepwater Horizon, for failing to realize for forty minutes that oil had started to leak from the well, and once it was realized, the crew “vented” the hydrocarbons “directly onto the rig”.
Describing how the explosion, which killed eleven rig personnel, occurred, the report states that “the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system probably transferred a gas-rich mixture into the engine rooms,” where the hydrocarbons ignited and a fireball engulfed the rig. But, the report states, the blowout preventer, the ultimate failsafe on the Deepwater Horizon failed, likely due to the fire on the rig. An automated system was not operational because the batteries powering it, located in a control pod, had gone flat, and another control pod contained a faulty solenoid valve.
The report was likely, however, written with the company’s legal liability for the disaster in a prominent position, since they are facing hundreds of lawsuits and criminal charges as a result of the spill. The executive summary is four and a half pages long and the first page is made up entirely of legal disclaimers saying if BP was found to be negligent in their operations of the rig, they could be fined a good deal more.
Questions have also been raised as to why BP has chosen to release their report before authorities examine the blowout preventer. The energy editor of The Guardian, Terry Macalister, wrote that the “catalougue of errors – both human and mechanical” in the report “demolish” the oil industry’s “much quoted mantra” of safety first. “It may come first in the board room but it does not down at the wellhead where the real dangers are faced,” he wrote. “It is worth remembering that BP, its rig operator Transocean and the main well contractor Halliburton are the blue chip companies in the wider oil and gas sector. If the shoddy work practices highlighted here are what the best-in-class do, then what is happening in the lower reaches of this industry?”
HAVE YOUR SAY
What do you think of Transocean’s claim that BP made “a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk”?
Transocean described the report as a “self-serving” attempt to “conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP’s fatally flawed well design. In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk – in some cases, severely.” In a statement, the company listed five issues they felt had contributed to the disaster that were no fault but BP’s. “Transocean’s 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.” Members of Congress, who are also carrying out a review into the disaster, also dismissed the report. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts democrat who has been investigating the spill in Congress, said that he felt the report was simply a lengthy defense of the oil company’s handling of the spill. “BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece,” he said.
Bly acknowledged during a press conference in Washington that the report did not detail the charges raised against the company in Congress and that BP permitted a culture of recklessness to flourish. He did, however, reject suggestions that cost-cutting had put lives at risk and the rig was a disaster waiting to happen. “What we see instead is, where there were errors made they were based on poor decision-making process or using wrong information,” he said. The Guardian reported that “the report is narrowly focused on the final days before the explosion rather than on earlier decisions about well design and safety procedures. It is also closely focused on the rig itself. No BP officials have been sacked for their role in the explosion, and Bly said there was no indication of any blame beyond the well-site managers.”
The Associated Press reported that Bly “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.” The report continued, “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.”
Heavily oiled Brown Pelicans wait to be cleaned of crude oil in Louisiana. Jim Footner of Greenpeace said that “the real problem is our addiction to oil, which is pushing companies like BP to put lives and the environment at risk … The time has come to move beyond oil and invest in clean energy.”
Head of Greenpeace‘s energy campaign Jim Footner said that it was “highly likely that a truly independent report would be even more damning for BP.” However, he said, “the real problem is our addiction to oil, which is pushing companies like BP to put lives and the environment at risk. The age of oil is coming to an end and companies like BP will be left behind unless they begin to adapt now. The time has come to move beyond oil and invest in clean energy.” Alfred R Sunsen, whose oyster company operating in the Gulf of Mexico is facing the prospect of going out of business after 134 years, reacted angrily the the report. “The report does not address the people, businesses, animals, or natural resources that have been impacted by the disaster and will be dealing with the consequences of their inadequate and slow response to the disaster,” he said. The New York Times said that the report is “unlikely to carry much weight in influencing the Department of Justice, which is considering criminal and civil charges related to the spill,” and described it as “a public relations exercise” and a “probable legal strategy as it prepares to defend itself against possible federal charges, penalties and hundreds of pending lawsuits.”
Wayne Pennington, head of the geological engineering department at Michigan Technical University, also alleged that BP was wrong to blame other parties involved with the disaster. “The blowout and subsequent explosion and spillage appear to the result of an overall attitude that encouraged unwarranted optimism in the quality of each component of the job, allowing the omission of standard testing procedures, and the misinterpretation of other tests in the most-favorable light.” He continued: “Instead, skepticism should reign on any drilling job, and testing and evaluation at each stage of the drilling and completion would then be routine; instead of questioning the need for such things as the cement bond log, the companies involved should insist on checking and double-checking quality at each step of the process. This was clearly not done, repeatedly, in the case of the Macondo well, and disaster resulted.”
4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, causing damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. Extensive measures were used to prevent the oil from reaching the coastline of Louisiana, including skimmer ships, floating containment booms, anchored barriers, and sand-filled barricades. Scientists have also reported immense underwater plumes of dissolved oil not visible at the surface. The U.S. Government has named BP as the responsible party, and officials have committed to holding the company accountable for all cleanup costs and other damage.
Dudley went on to say that BP “deeply regret” the disaster. “We have sought throughout to step up to our responsibilities. We are determined to learn the lessons for the future and we will be undertaking a broad-scale review to further improve the safety of our operations. We will invest whatever it takes to achieve that. It will be incumbent on everyone at BP to embrace and implement the changes necessary to ensure that a tragedy like this can never happen again.”
- Steven Mufson, David Hilzenrath. “In report on gulf oil spill, BP spreads the blame” — The Washington Post, September 9, 2010
- Suzanne Goldenberg. “Gulf oil disaster: BP admits missing warning signs hours before blast” — The Guardian, September 8, 2010
- “BP oil spill report – live coverage” — The Guardian, September 8, 2010
- Ian Urbina. “Report by BP Finds Several Companies at Fault in Spill” — The New York Times, September 8, 2010
- Harry R. Weber, Michael Kunzelman, Dina Cappiello. “BP report blames itself, others for oil spill” — The Associated Press, September 8, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Map highlighting location of Deepwater well and Vermillion 380 platform.
An oil platform owned by Mariner Energy has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico throwing thirteen people into the water, reports indicate. All thirteen men who fell into the water have been accounted for, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. No injuries were reported. Smoke was billowing from the oil rig named Vermilion 380, which is reported to still be on fire.
The blast occurred at around 9:19 a.m., approximately 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay off the coast of Louisiana. The Coast Guard confirms the platform was producing oil and gas at the time it exploded. They earlier reported a one mile long and 100 foot wide oil sheen which was spotted at the site of the explosion shortly after authorities responded to the scene, but later backtracked saying they could not confirm the presence of a sheen. Coast Guard chief petty officer John Edwards of the US Coast Guard earlier said that the platform, “was not actively producing any product.” Mariner Energy also released a statement earlier saying no oil sheen was spotted.
“In an initial flyover, no hydrocarbon spill was reported,” said Mariner Energy in a press release following the explosion. “The cause is not known, and an investigation will be undertaken. During the last week of August 2010, production from this facility averaged approximately 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate.” According to Bureau of Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement spokesperson Melissa Schwartz, the platform was authorized to produce natural gas and oil at those depths, but “there were ongoing maintenance activities underway” which caused it to stop producing. The platform sits in about 2,500 feet of water, though some reports put the platform in 340 feet of water.
As a result of the explosion and fire, Bobby Jindal, the governor for the state of Louisiana said that the Vermillion 380 platform had been “shut” and that oil flowing from the bottom of the Gulf has been stopped. At least 6 other platforms are said to be connected to the well that Vermilion 380 was part of. Jindal also said the fire was burning due to flammable materials on the platform.
Apache Corporation, which has agreed to, but has not yet completed a merger with Mariner Energy, did not comment on whether the explosion would have any effect on the deal. The vice-president Bob Dye told Wikinews that “Apache and Mariner agreed to merge in April, 2010, however, the transaction has not yet closed so Mariner remains the operator of this platform”.
All 13 people have been rescued by an oil support vessel and have been transported to a nearby platform. Edwards earlier told MSNBC that all those who were in the water were “wearing some sort of an immersion suit that protects them from the water. Right now we’re focused on search and rescue and then, ultimately, as this thing progresses we’re going to be looking into the cause.”
The explosion comes only four months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig run by BP exploded in April, resulting in a massive oil spill. The platform is located about 200 miles west of the Deepwater incident.
- “Coast Guard: No Oil Sheen From Gulf Explosion” — WSPA, September 2, 2010
- David Hammer. “Coast Guard confirms burning oil platform was in production; unclear where sheen comes from” — NOLA, September 2, 2010
- “La. Gov. Jindal says Mariner platform output shut” — Reuters, September 2, 2010
- “Coast Guard responds to oil platform explosion” — Coast Guard responds to oil platform explosion, September 2, 2010
- “Oil sheen seen near burning platform -Coast Guard” — Reuters, September 2, 2010
- “Oil Sheen Spreading From Gulf Platform Explosion” — ABC News, September 2, 2010
- “Mariner Energy Confirms a Fire at a Production Platform on Vermilion Block 380 in the Gulf of Mexico; All Crew Members Safely Accounted for” — Mariner Energy, September 2, 2010
- Alan Sayre. “Gulf oil platform explodes, burning off La. coast” — Associated Press, September 2, 2010
- “Workers from Gulf platform taken to second platform” — Reuters, September 2, 2010
- “Coast Guard Responding to Oil Rig Explosion South of Vermilion Bay” — WQAD, September 2, 2010
- Erwin Seba. “Mariner Energy facility on fire in Gulf” — Montreal Gazette, September 2, 2010
- “Oil platform explodes, catches fire off La. coast” — MSNBC, September 2, 2010
- “Oil rig explosion reported in Gulf of Mexico” — CNN, September 2, 2010
- “Explosion on Gulf of Mexico rig” — BBC News, September 2, 2010