Panel Spreads Blame For BP Oil Rig Explosion In an excerpt from its final report, the presidential panel investigating what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon rig outlines error after error made on the rig and onshore by BP and its contractors. The commission's co-chair blames bad management and bad communication.
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Panel Spreads Blame For BP Oil Rig Explosion

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Panel Spreads Blame For BP Oil Rig Explosion

Panel Spreads Blame For BP Oil Rig Explosion

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And let's go a little bit west, now, to the Gulf of Mexico, because we have a follow-up on last year's BP oil spill. The commission that President Obama appointed to investigate the disaster is releasing its full, final report next week.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren got an early look at a key chapter, which includes sharp criticism directed at multiple targets.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: When William Reilly became the co-chairman of the commission, he expected to uncover a story about one bad actor: BP. But instead, he found that Halliburton and Transocean were deeply implicated.

Mr. WILLIAM REILLY (Co-Chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil and Offshore Drilling): I was surprised and shocked.

SHOGREN: Those two companies are mainstays of the offshore drilling industry. TransOcean provides and staffs rigs, Halliburton provides cement to secure the wells and other services. Reilly headed the EPA under the first President Bush and is now a board member of oil giant Conoco-Philips. He says the companies made baffling decisions that played a role in the disaster.

Mr. REILLY: Given that both of these companies, plus BP, are active in virtually every ocean, I have concluded, reluctantly, that we have a system-wide problem that is going to require a system-wide solution.

SHOGREN: The commission outlines what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, detailing one mistake after another that BP and its contractors made on the rig and on shore. In one example, rig operators were doing something called a negative pressure test to make sure a cement job was working to prevent gas from leaking. As Reilly points out, the operators didn't like a reading they were getting from the drill pipe, so they did a second test on another piece of equipment, which came out better.

Mr. REILLY: Inexplicably, a decision was made to take the reassuring test result without trying to figure out why it was it was inconsistent with the information coming up the drill pipe.

SHOGREN: The report blames operators for failing to communicate the inconsistent results to anyone on shore, and states that if they had, the blowout may not have happened. In another example, before the accident, Halliburton found that the cement slurry that it planned to use was not stable, but Halliburton did little to warn BP. Reilly says these and other errors all point to bad management and bad communication. The decisions the companies made saved time and money but increased the risk of a blowout.

Mr. REILLY: The fact that there was a pattern is what created a sense in the minds of the commission that this is a large problem.

SHOGREN: The commission pointedly and repeatedly blames the companies, and says the government failed to adequately oversee them. Transocean, BP, and Halliburton each declined to comment. But the president of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, stresses that the Deepwater Horizon was an exception.

Mr. JACK GERARD (President, American Petroleum Institute): The oil and gas industry has been in the Gulf of Mexico for 65 years and we've drilled over 42,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first incident that has occurred of this magnitude.

SHOGREN: He says since the accident, the industry made changes and should be given the green light to fully resume drilling in the Gulf.

Mr. GERARD: We've focused like a laser on improving our safety activities.

SHOGREN: The new agency that regulates the industry, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, has made drilling rules tougher, but not tough enough, according to the commission. It wants beefier government oversight. But the commission doesn't think the agency can do the job alone. Instead, the commission will recommend that industry start policing itself. It wants the companies to create a safety institute, like one formed by the nuclear energy industry after the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

Commission member Frances Beinecke is president of the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Ms. FRANCES BEINECKE (President, Natural Resources Defense Council): They're the ones with the expertise, they should be bringing the whole industry up to what are the best operating standards and seek constant improvement.

SHOGREN: She says this and other recommendations from the commission would help prevent future tragedies.

Ms. BEINECKE: If they're adopted. But if they're not, the risk is as great as ever that this could happen again and again.

SHOGREN: The full report is expected out next Tuesday. It will critique efforts to stop the flow of oil and clean up the mess, and spell out the commission's recommendations.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And you can read for yourself the advance chapter of the oil spill commission's final report. We've posted it at


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