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Interior: Blowout Preventers on BP’s Relief Wells Also Had Problems

Buried in a memo about the drilling moratorium was a reminder of risks that go beyond BP's ruptured well in the Gulf. Even the relief wells have had problems needing repairs.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration issued a new moratorium calling for oil and gas companies to demonstrate they can stop an oil spill before certain new drilling projects are given permits.

The new moratorium, more narrowly tailored to pass legal muster, no longer freezes drilling based on depth, but instead suspends projects based on their configuration. It applies to projects that use subsea blowout preventers—the fail-safe safety device that did in fact fail in the Gulf—or surface blowout preventers on floating rigs. This covers about two-thirds of the projects covered under the first moratorium.

In a 29-page memo to Michael Bromwich, director of the revamped offshore drilling regulatory agency, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar explained his decision, but buried in that memo was this interesting piece of news, which Reuters first brought to our attention:

It is clear that the apparent performance problem with the Deepwater Horizon’s BOP is not an isolated incident. Performance problems have also been identified in recent weeks with the BOPs on the relief wells that BP is drilling.

The problems were uncovered, according to Salazar, during “new testing requirements that were imposed on the relief wells after the BP oil spill, thus providing more evidence that prior testing requirements were inadequate.”

Salazar went on to say that the problems have been fixed on the relief wells, but it’s “unlikely that these problems are unique to BP”:

The BOPs are manufactured by a very small number of companies, and BOPs used across the industry tend to employ standardized components.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

For one thing, Lamar McKay, president of BP America, told lawmakers last month that “the design of the relief well is very, very similar to the original well.” And as we’ve noted, both regulators and the industry have long known that blowout preventers were not reliable.

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