MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Melissa Block.
BP today released its own investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The company shouldered some of the blame, but also placed plenty of it on its contractors. At root, BP finds eight separate and avoidable failures that contributed to the deadly explosion.
NPRs Richard Harris explains.
RICHARD HARRIS: The story that unfolds in this report ties together many of the narratives that have emerged in the ongoing official investigations. And in a video the oil company posted on the Web, BP safety chief Mark Bly says it all started with a bad cement plug that Halliburton had placed at the bottom of the well.
Mr. MARK BLY (Safety Chief, BP): We believe that BP and Halliburton, working together, should have better identified and addressed the issues underlying the cement job.
HARRIS: Bad cement jobs happen all the time in oil wells. After all, people cant actually see what theyre doing. The trick is to test the cement afterwards and make sure its okay. BP and Transocean conducted that pressure test and then utterly misread and misunderstood the results they saw.
Mr. BLY: The investigation team believes this reading should have resulted in further inquiry into the wells integrity. Instead, the abnormal pressure was attributed to a phenomenon called the bladder effect.
HARRIS: Investigators say, as far as they can tell, there is no such thing as a bladder effect. In any event, the crew continued to remove heavy fluid from the well, which they didnt realize was by then holding back a dangerous load of oil and gas, hydrocarbons that were trying to make their way up the well.
At this point, Blys report that says well managers, presumably those who work for the contractor Transocean, stopped paying close attention to the well so they didnt realize it was on the verge of a blowout.
Mr. BLY: In retrospect there was about a 40-minute gap between the first indication of hydrocarbon influx and the first well control response. Roughly eight minutes later, the first explosion occurred.
HARRIS: The BP report goes on to blame inadequate procedures and safety equipment on the Deepwater Horizon rig. And it points out that as we all know, the blowout preventer was not in proper working order. The company also had searched that its own well design was not to blame. But the list of things that did go wrong is jaw dropping.
Mr. BLY: Mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team communication.
HARRIS: You might wonder why oil wells arent blowing up all the time considering how many things can and do go wrong. Tad Patzek, an oil and gas engineering professor at the University of Texas in Austin says its a matter of how these mistakes all added up.
Professor TAD PATZEK (Oil and Gas Engineering, University of Texas at Austin): No major accident, catastrophe happens because of a single reason. There has to be a confluence of several reasons, which are aligned in a particularly bad way. And thats what seems to have happened here.
HARRIS: Hes not ready to accept that the BP version of events is definitive, but he does point to one fundamental flaw in the Deepwater Horizon operations: normally oil companies always have more than one way to control a dangerous well like this at any given moment, but BP did not.
Prof. PATZEK: Other companies, such as Shell or Exxon or Chevron, are adamant to have these multiple barriers and they will stop a drilling job if there is suspicion that one of these barriers is not working.
HARRIS: Thats one obvious fix - make sure people actually follow the rules and the standards of the industry. L.G. Holstein at the Environmental Defense Fund says other obvious steps are to bolster federal oversight and to make a few straightforward technical fixes like making sure blowout preventers are actually in working order. Fixing a companys culture is the harder job.
Mr. L.G. HOLSTEIN (Environmental Defense Fund): All companies will tell you that, you know, that they have reasonable safety cultures in place, but usually what that has meant in the oil industry is a focus on worker safety.
HARRIS: Thats critical, but not sufficient, Holstein says. Safety needs to be redefined to protect not just limbs and eyes, but ecosystems and, indeed, regional livelihoods.
Richard Harris, NPR News.
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