A new report offers a harsh assessment of BP, its service contractors and the U.S. Minerals Management Service in their role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The preliminary report from a National Academy of Engineering/National Research Council committee, released on Nov. 17, suggests that BP and its service contractors “lacked a suitable approach for managing the inherent risks” at the Macondo well and learning from “near misses.”
“Important decisions made to proceed toward well abandonment despite several indications of potential hazard suggest an insufficient consideration of risks,” says Donald Winter, former secretary of the Navy, a professor of engineering practice at the university of Michigan, and chairman of the study committee.
“It’s also important to note that these flawed decisions were not identified or corrected by BP and its service contractors, or by the oversight process employed by the U.S. Minerals Management Service and other regulatory agencies,” Winter says.
The report is generally tougher on BP than the presidentially appointed National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Splll and Offshore Drilling, which released its preliminary findings on Nov. 8 in Washington, D.C. That panel’s lead investigator, Fred Bartlit, refused to cast blame on any one company, saying he agreed with “about 90%” of the findings of BP’s own investigation into the accident.
Although the National Academy of Engineering study authors say their findings are preliminary, they reiterate criticism from some of the other investigations taking place relating to the decision to abandon the exploratory well despite the results of repeated negative-pressure tests showing the cement casing was not providing an effective barrier to hydrocarbon flow.
Of particular concern overall, the NAE report says, was the lack of a systematic approach to “integrate the multiple factors impacting well safety, to monitor the overall margins of safety and to assess various decisions from a well-integrity and safety perspective.”
In a written statement, BP says that the NAE/NRC report “draws no final conclusions” and that it “makes clear that the committee is continuing to investigate and has not yet considered evidence that has surfaced since October 1st. Such evidence includes the cement tests conducted independently for the Presidential Commission suggesting that Halliburton’s cement slurry was unstable. We will continue to cooperate with the committee to provide information and evidence to assist in its review.”
Meanwhile, the commission on Nov. 22 released two new draft working papers that assess the cleanup response and BP’s efforts to contain the spill.
The first concludes that neither industry nor government has dedicated enough funds and resources to developing cleanup technologies since the Exxon Valdez spill. However, the existing technology gap could close with the proper combination of “dedicated funding and creative incentives,” the commission says.
The second paper says BP made an “impressive effort” to contain the spill over a five-month period, and the government was able to develop effective oversight. However, those efforts, the commission notes, were made necessary by the failure to anticipate the explosion in the first place.
The NAE committee plans to issue a final report in summer 2011. That report will make recommendations to help foster a “culture of safety” to ensure that schedule and cost decisions do not compromise safety on similar operations.
The NAE study is being sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich says, “[The study team’s work] will help guide our continuing efforts to strengthen standards and oversight and underscores the importance of our ongoing efforts to build a strong and independent agency with the resources, training and expertise to provide aggressive oversight of offshore oil-and- gas operations.”