Journalism in the Public Interest

BP’s Internal Investigation vs. What We Already Know

No doubt many are still digging into BP’s 193-page report — released earlier today — about what went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon rig. Known as the Bly report (named after BP’s safety honcho and head of the investigation, Mark Bly) it tells BP’s account of the events, of course, and spreads the blame around.

While it doesn't attempt to fully absolve BP of fault, the report suggests that blame for the initial incident lies with not with BP but with Halliburton and its cement job. Transocean’s crew is blamed for failing to detect the problem early and stop it. (Halliburton and Transocean both pushed back, with the latter calling BP's report "self-serving.")

So how does BP's account compare with previous reports suggesting that BP's own choices led up to the disaster? We've flagged some of those choices, and here’s how BP's report addresses each of those points:

On its decision to use a “long string” well design, which in the long run was was lower in cost than the other option being considered:

"Industry data in Mississippi Canyon Block 252 area also indicates that approximately 57% of the wells used long strings while approximately 36% used liners or liners with tiebacks."

On its preparation before cementing, and its decision not to install the number of centralizers recommended by Halliburton:

"Although the decision not to use 21 centralizers increased the possibility of channeling above the main hydrocarbon zones, the decision likely did not contribute to the cement's failure …"

On skipping a test, post-cementing, known as a “cement evaluation log” or cement bond log:

"A formal risk assessment might have enabled the BP Macondo well team to identify further mitigation options to address risks such as the possibility of channeling; this may have included the running of a cement evaluation log."

On displacing the heavy drilling mud with seawater, which made the well more vulnerable to bursts of gas:

"These procedures were in accordance with common industry practice and were necessary before the rig moved off the well."

On why the blowout preventer (or BOP), a key piece of safety equipment, failed:

"There were conditions in the BOP system that could have impaired its performance prior to and after the accident. The investigation team concluded that most of these conditions (e.g., hydraulic system leaks, solenoid valve coil faults) should have been detected by the BOP diagnostic capability that was available to the rig crew [read: Transocean] and subsea personnel by the routine BOP testing and maintenance program."

On responding to the loss of well control, BP pinned most of the blame on Transocean and its rig workers:

"Transocean’s shut-in protocols did not fully address how to respond in an emergency situation (loss of well control). Actions taken prior to the explosion suggest the rig crew was not sufficiently prepared to manage an escalating well control situation."

BP did note that “the rig crew and well site leaders” — the rig crew was Transocean's personnel, the well site leaders were BP's — had made a mistake in failing to act on an abnormal pressure test, and instead proceeded with the displacement of mud:

"Abnormal pressures observed during the negative-pressure test were indicative of a failed or inconclusive test; however, the test was deemed successful."

But it also added the following qualifications about why the test was bungled: "Neither the industry at large, the offshore drilling regulations by MMS, BP policy, or Transocean documents established any standards for such pressure tests."

Contractors Transocean and Halliburton are still looking closely at the report, but have apparently read enough of it to come out swinging.

“As we continue to review BP’s internal report published earlier today, we have noticed a number of substantial omissions and inaccuracies in the document,” Halliburton said in a statement. Halliburton pushed responsibility back on BP, noting that “contractors do not specify well design or make decisions regarding testing procedures as that responsibility lies with the well owner.”

Transocean also pointed out BP’s well design, which it called “fatally flawed.” A Transocean spokesman also told the Houston Chronicle that the report was “self-serving,” and an attempt to mask that BP “made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk—in some cases, severely.”

BP’s Mark Bly defended the report and the intent behind it, the Chronicle reported.

“We were not about proportioning or apportioning fault or blame,” Bly told reporters earlier today. “We understand our work may be used for those reasons, but that’s not what we’ve done. We wanted to understand what happened and why.”

BP’s investigation did not include a physical inspection of the blowout preventer, which is currently in government custody and is expected to be an important piece of evidence in the government’s own investigation of the disaster.

Living in Houston for quite a long time and being in the rig culture of mucho get er done come hell or high water attitude it is no wonder there were so many bad decissions made by all.  The well owner is the only one responsible and if the owner’s contractors make mistakes it is still the owner’s responsibility.  The mistake the drilling operator made was NOT standing up to the owner’s rep and preventing this murder of 11 souls and Gulf catastrophy.  Compounded short cuts are greater than the sum of their parts.  Not enough spacers a bad BOP and selinoid, water instead of mud in the last stage of cement all compounded the misteps and added up to homicide and mass distruction of our nation’s natural resouce and all it supports

When serious lapses punctuate every critical process within a system, they are not lapses but part of the day-to-day implementation of the process. BP’s characterization of the events that so rapidly cascaded into disaster as “a complex series of failures and bad decisions” is nothing more than the complicit’s euphemism for “business as usual, exposed unexpectedly.”

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