Journalism in the Public Interest

Worker: BP Didn’t Stop Drilling After Leaks on Blowout Preventer


Ronald Sepulvado, BP well site leader from the Deepwater Horizon rig, swears in at the joint investigation hearing, on July 20, 2010. (U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel)

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.

The effect of these chemicals could be analyzed if evidence remained of the well behavior and human interaction, where is all of the forensic evidence of what when and where happened on this control system for expert review?  Sunk in a pile of melted steel.

Much of the evidence is on the well log that is public knowledge.  This shows the blowout in progress for several minutes and no being action taken.

The well log only contains data as a human reported it.  I personally program these systems and there is a tremendous amount of data that is not recorded in a well log associated with the blow out prevention systems, riser management, and well control.

I agree that evidence exists enough to show negligence but I am saying that there were undoubtedly many more mistakes we will never know and thus the standards that could be put in place to prevent it on other rigs will lack because of it.

It’s common knowledge that BP screwed the well up nine ways from Sunday but a blowout is no excuse to sit there and let it blow up a rig.  That’s what BOP’s and diverters are for.  You activate them before the explosion wipes the controls.

Last week Mike Williams testified about the alarms being turned off.  I posted something similar over a month ago - see note #2

The hearings will resume in Houston next month, more of these rig issues and Transocean’s failure to respond will come to light.

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