Friday, February 18, 2011

BP workers could have prevented rig accident: commission

By Ayesha Rascoe

Image: Work continues on equipment at the site of the BP oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico, in this image captured from a BP live video feed July 14, 2010.Credit: Reuters/BP/Handout

BP had workers on the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig who could have prevented the missteps that led to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but they were not consulted, the White House oil spill commission said on Thursday.

In an expanded report on the causes of the BP drilling disaster that killed 11 workers and ravaged the U.S. Gulf coast last summer, the commission released new details about the events that preceded the BP accident.

The commission's investigators said BP workers failed to ask a knowledgeable company engineer who was visiting the rig about unexpected results from a critical negative pressure test on the rig.

"If anyone had consulted him or any other shore-based engineer, the blowout might never have happened," the commission said in a statement.

The misreading of that pressure test and the decision to move ahead with temporary abandonment of BP's Macondo well was a major catalyst for the April 20 rig explosion that eventually unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Had BP's well site leaders brought their faulty explanation of the test results to one of the visiting engineers, "events likely would have turned out differently," the commission report said.

The engineers visiting the rig that day later questioned the crew's interpretation of the test results. BP onshore officials said they would have insisted on further testing, had they been consulted.

"The sad fact is that this was an entirely preventable disaster," the commission's chief counsel, Fred Bartlit, said in a statement. "Poor decisions by management were the real cause."

BP said in a statement it has a "good understanding" of the causes of the accident based on its own internal investigation and commission's conclusions.

"BP has already incorporated the findings of these reports into its current and future plans and has made significant management and organizational changes to further enhance the company's safety and risk management processes going forward," the company said.

Created by President Barack Obama during the BP oil spill, the commission released its major findings and recommendations last month.

The expanded report on the causes of the accident does not change any of the commission's previous conclusions, but is meant to provide the public with the "fullest possible account" of the accident, the commission said.

While the commission does not have the authority to enact policy or take punitive action, the panel's findings could affect future criminal and civil cases related to the spill.

Other new details released in the report include the finding that BP knew that there were issues with Halliburton and its work years before the accident.

The commission previously criticized Halliburton's cement job on the rig, saying the company may have completed the job before knowing its cement formula was stable.

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