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Deepwater Horizon – an independent assessment

My compliments to Panorama and your programme “How on earth did this happen”

Please see the attached analysis sent to the US investigators and Professor Robert Bea who according to CBS News 60 minutes has a role in collating survivors testimony and the Chemical Safety and Investigation Board (CSB) tasked I understand to investigate the disaster.

I have no connections whatsoever with BP, your people in Aberdeen are aware of who I am and I took part in 2006 in the BBC Frontline Scotland Programme the Human Price of Oil.  I have from time to time supplied Channel 4 with technical input on questions re offshore safety also.

My analysis is dependant on the credibility of the survivor testimony by Professor Bea has in writing stated he thinks it credible and went on record on the CBS programme as stating BP were to blame.

My analysis concludes otherwise. See attached, I think it is in the public interest to have a more balanced viewpoint known.

rgds

Bill Campbell B.Sc MIET C.Eng.

How on earth did this happen, again!

From the testimony of survivors it is apparent that high levels of gas were being released on Deepwater Horizon in the months and weeks prior to the fateful day on the 20th May.

All activities were halted on several occasions with gas being emitted from the drilling cuttings in the mud treatment area.

According to one worker’s account submitted to Professor Bea at one point so much gas came belching to the surface that a loudspeaker announcement called for a halt to all hot work meaning any smoking, welding, cooking or other use of fire.  Smaller belches, or kicks had stalled work as the job was winding down.

The US regulator MMS was apparently aware of this and advised the Operator Transocean to proceed with caution.

There appears to be a tolerance to the risks of flammable atmospheres being present on offshore installations in the US.  This is in marked contrast to the UK where in 1988 on Piper Alpha 167 lives were lost as a direct result of the ignition of a flammable atmosphere.

This would not be acceptable in the UK where Operators have to demonstrate in a Safety Case how they would reduce the risks of such events.  They would further require through design and operating practices to demonstrate that if gas was accidentally released into the atmosphere that sufficient measures were in place to ensure this would not be ignited.

It was gas entering an area not protected to prevent egress of gas into that area that caused the Piper Alpha explosion.  From the testimony of a survivor of Deepwater Horizon it would appear that the gas ignited when it was ingested into areas where electrical equipment was housed that was capable of causing the explosive gas-air mixture to ignite.

So almost quarter of a Century after the largest loss of live on an offshore installation the same causal factors aligned on Deepwater Horizon.  From analysis of the statements from survivors there were many other similarities between Piper Alpha and Deepwater Horizon that would suggest that the US oil industry failed to learn from the 1988 event.

Perhaps a reason for this is that the Oil Industry offshore US was never compelled to implement a Safety Case approach to assess risks to employees offshore, or in modern times, an HSE case approach.  Although agencies such as the International Association of Drilling Contractors (based in Houston) produced HSE Guidelines for Mobile Drilling Units such as Deepwater Horizon the US Regulator MMS does not require the industry to comply with these.

Perhaps the US president and the legislative bodies in Congress need to look for asses to kick elsewhere and look at the role they played in the likely blocking of such initiatives such as Safety Case implementation.  The industry thought that this was likely to be a British overreaction and any case it was too costly.  This is despite Safety Case approaches to assessment of risk have been adopted world-wide.

You can already see the pressure building to recommence deepwater drilling from the decision of a judge and with agencies such as IADC lobbying for such.

Whatever the culpability of BP in the earlier decisions re the shear rams of the sub-sea BOP et al they were not accountable in Law for the design, operation and maintenance of Deepwater Horizon.  The owner and Operator Transocean bear that responsibility and as should need be held accountable if through their negligence they allowed flammable atmospheres to exist and when they did exist took inadequate precautions to prevent ignition.  It is interesting to Note that in the massive coverage of this event there is virtually no mention of Transocean.  In their web-site they talk of the BP oil spill as if they had no part to play at all in how the blow-out developed and how the explosion occurred.

It is certainly in the interests of BP, and its shareholders, lest they be driven to bankruptcy in part at least, due to the negligence of others.

The BP CEO has already alluded to this in his statements that Deepwater Horizon was not their installations and its procedures and controls were not theirs also.  It’s a pity he did no emphasis this theme more forcibly in his testimony to congress.

It’s time for a more balanced discussion of these issues and the Oil Industry needs to proceed with caution until such times as the Chemical Safety Board (the agency charged with the investigation) come up with at least some preliminary finding re the root causes of this disaster.

There is of course an issue today.  How many installations have the same residual risks apparent on Deepwater Horizon?  Could this happen again?

Whether the rig is drilling in deepwater or on the shallower shelf does not in essence matter.  It is the concurrence of an explosive gas air mixture with a source of ignition that needs to be avoided at all costs.

The UK industry learned those lessons, and at great cost spent some billions to ensure that such events had to be avoided as far as was reasonably practicable, but it would appear that the insular US did not.

regards

Deepwater Horizon: Analysis of Cause of Explosion on Deepwater Horizon – 24/06/2010

Comment by “Judgekelly” Submitted on 2010/06/29 at 1:33pm

yes, i agree that transocean will be held responsible under comparative negligence. testimony before congress stated that there were six people on the ship (rig) who could stop the operation at any time. one of the six was the captain of the deepwater horizon ship. each of the six (and their employers) will be given a percentage of liability when the jury trials begin.

bp will pay, but they will survive. transocean and cameron will not survive. they do not have the market cap to pay the damages they will owe.
this is a very good article.

1 Comment on “Deepwater Horizon – an independent assessment”

  1. #1 judgekelly
    on Jun 29th, 2010 at 13:33

    yes, i agree that transocean will be held responsible under comparative negligence. testimony before congress stated that there were six people on the ship (rig) who could stop the operation at any time. one of the six was the captain of the deepwater horizon ship. each of the six (and their employers) will be given a percentage of liability when the jury trials begin.

    bp will pay, but they will survive. transocean and cameron will not survive. they do not have the market cap to pay the damages they will owe.
    this is a very good article.

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