Tuesday, May 25, 2010

U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Releases Memo Showing BP May Have Had Five Hours Warning Prior To Deepwater Horizon Explosion

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee (HECC) released a Congressional memo on May 25th, 2010 which indicates that technicians at the Deepwater Horizon rig may have had as much as five hours advance warning that problems were developing. The memo summarized the information presented by BP on May 12th to Committee staff on the progress of its internal investigation of the causes of the blowout and oil spill. HECC has an entire section devoted to Deepwater HERE.

Read the two-page memo HERE.

According to the memo, as early as 5:05 P.M., almost five hours before the explosion, an unexpected loss of fluid was observed in the riser pipe, suggesting that there were leaks in the annular preventer in the BOP (blowout preventer). Two hours before the explosion, during efforts to begin negative pressure testing, the system gained 15 barrels of liquid instead of the 5 barrels that were expected, leading to the possibility that there was an “influx from the well.” There were also three additional anomalies in the flow indicators from the well before the explosion. One was 51 minutes before the explosion when more fluid began flowing out of the well than was being pumped in. Another flow indicator was 41 minutes before the explosion when the pump was shut down for a “sheen” test, yet the well continued to flow instead of stopping and drill pipe pressure also unexpectedly increased. Then, 18 minutes before the explosion, abnormal pressures and mud returns were observed and the pump was abruptly shut down. The data suggests that the crew may have attempted mechanical interventions at that point to control the pressure, but soon after, the flow out and pressure increased dramatically and the explosion took place.

The memo also suggests that some cement work failed, including crucial components designed to hold back oil and gas and prevent an explosion. Because the drilling mud was being offloaded to a separate vessel instead of the rig's own tanks, the Deepwater Horizon's crews may have had a difficult time monitoring overall fluid levels and pressure.

ADN also cites information from Bob Cavnar, a Houston engineer who's been involved in oil and gas exploration and production and has been following the investigation on his blog, the Daily Hurricane. In his post entitled "From 'Drill, Baby, Drill!' To 'Spill, Baby, Spill!' Now What?, he basically summed up the disaster as a "perfect storm", saying that everything that could go wrong did. Cavnar also appeared on Shepard Smith's Fox News program to discuss the use of dispersants; the video is embedded below:

Cavnar offers six recommendation to minimize the recurrence of this type of disaster:

* An immediate moratorium on all offshore drilling that involves sea floor well control, until standardized systems are developed and tested that prove a well can be controlled and killed without the necessity of a connected surface rig. [Note that he is NOT advocating a blanket moratorium on all offshore drilling; just on those operations without a connected surface rig.]

* Development of a sophisticated, high volume, subsea oil collection system that is available 24/7 to the industry for more efficient clean up of spills in the event they do occur.

* Strict regulation of the types and use of oil dispersants to mitigate damage to the environment and life.

* Complete the split of the MMS into the three agencies, making safety and environmental regulation totally separate from the revenue and leasing functions.

* Conform safety, equipment, procedures, and inspections for all vessels working in US waters, whether they are foreign or US flagged. Strengthen tax regulation to assure all vessels are on equal footing.

* Establish a subsea technology function within NOAA or the MMS to advance the research, standardization, and regulation of all subsea operations in US waters, with the goal of making these functions safer and more reliable.

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