Worker: BP Didn’t Stop Drilling After Leaks on Blowout Preventer
This morning, we noted that a BP attorney testified that maintenance on the Deepwater Horizon rig was excessively behind schedule, and that an audit last fall found 390 repairs left undone. We also noted that as a whole, BP doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to maintenance.
Testimony from today’s hearings seemed to indicate the same: Ronald Sepulvado, a BP well site leader, testified that weeks before the explosion on the rig, leaks were found on a control pod of the blowout preventer—an important safety device that failed to stop the disaster. (Earlier hearings revealed that one of the two control pods also had a dead battery.)
According to federal regulations, BP should’ve stopped drilling when the leak was found. It did not. Sepulvado said he noted the leak in an April 9 daily operation report. He also reported the matter to his supervisor at BP in Houston. Here’s The Times-Picayune:
"I assumed everything was OK because I reported it to the team leader and he should have reported it to MMS," Sepulvado said.
Sepulvado said he didn't consider the leaking BOP pod a "critical function of the BOP stack" and said the whole device "didn't lose functionality."
Neither BP nor the federal Minerals Management Service responded to his report of the leak in the weeks leading up to the April 20 disaster. Sepulvado left the rig days before the accident to attend a training program on blowout preventers.
At today’s hearing, he was also asked about the decision to pump an unusual mixture of chemicals into the well in the hours before the explosion.
As one drilling fluid contractor, Leo Linder, testified on Monday, BP approved the use of two chemicals “meant to flush drilling mud from the hole” — but the quantity used was more than double the norm, and they had never been used in combination, according to The Washington Post:
BP had hundreds of barrels of the two chemicals on hand and needed to dispose of the material, Lindner testified. By first flushing it into the well, the company could take advantage of an exemption in an environmental law that otherwise would have prohibited it from discharging the hazardous waste into the Gulf of Mexico, Lindner said.
The procedure mixed two substances. "It's not something we've ever done before," Lindner said.
It’s unclear what effect this fluid had on the accident, but some have said that this “departure from standard practice” may have skewed the well’s pressure test and influenced the contentious decision to remove the heavy drilling mud and replace it with seawater—a decision that, together with “risky” well design and maintenance lapses, may have led to the disaster.