US & Canada

Excerpts: BP oil spill report

In an advance released chapter of its forthcoming final report, the US presidential National Oil Spill Commission found that the companies involved in the BP oil spill had made decisions to cut costs and save time, contributing to the disaster. Here are some key excerpts from their findings.

Failure of management

The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening. But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo [well] can be traced back to a single overarching failure - a failure of management.

Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them.

Weak government

The Macondo well blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent.

It could happen again

The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.

Cumulative risk

What we... know is considerable and significant: (1) each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a well blowout; (2) the cumulative risk that resulted from these decisions and actions was both unreasonably large and avoidable; and (3) the risk of a catastrophic blowout was ultimately realised on April 20 and several of the mistakes were contributing causes of the blowout.

Federal responsibility

Federal regulations did not address many of the key issues - for example, no regulation specified basic procedures for the negative pressure test used to evaluate the cement seal or minimum criteria for test success.

Money-saving decisions

Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money).

Risky decisions

Some of the risky decisions taken by the companies involved include:

  • Halliburton not fully reporting the results of tests on the foam cement used to seal the well until after the blowout, including ones that suggested that the mixture might have been unstable.
  • The failure by BP to use 15 additional centralisers to stabilise the well instead of six, as recommended, which are critical to a good cementing job.
  • The failure to properly conduct and interpret the negative-pressure test was a major contributing factor to the blowout.
  • It was not necessary or advisable for BP to replace 3,300ft (1,006m) of mud below the mud line with seawater, which placed more stress on the cement job at the bottom of the well than necessary.
  • The drilling crew and other individuals on the rig missed critical signs that a kick (an unplanned influx of gas or fluids) was occurring. The crew could have prevented the blowout - or at least significantly reduced its impact - if they had reacted in a timely and appropriate manner.