There Will Be Blood, And By That We Mean, Possible Criminal Charges

Maria Recio, Dave Montgomery and Mark Washburn at McClatchy:

In the days after an oil well spun out of control in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers tried to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment but failed because the device had been so altered that diagrams BP got from the equipment’s owner didn’t match the supposedly failsafe device’s configuration, congressional investigators said Wednesday.

The oil well also failed at least one critical pressure test on the day that gas surged up the drill pipe and set the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig aflame, killing 11 and setting off a spill that has spewed 210,000 gallons of crude into the gulf every day for three weeks, according to BP documents provided to congressional investigators.

“The more I learn about this accident, the more concerned I become. This catastrophe appears to have been caused by a calamitous series of equipment and operational failures” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at a hearing on Wednesday _ the third congressional hearing in two days on the unfolding catastrophe.

Marcus Baram at Huffington Post:

In addition, an oil industry whistleblower told Huffington Post that BP had been aware for years that tests of blowout prevention devices were being falsified in Alaska. The devices are different from the ones involved in the Deepwater Horizon explosion but are also intended to prevent dangerous blowouts at drilling operations.

Mike Mason, who worked on oil rigs in Alaska for 18 years, says that he observed cheating on blowout preventer tests at least 100 times, including on many wells owned by BP.

As he describes it, the test involves a chart that shows whether the device will hold a certain amount of pressure for five minutes on each valve. (The test involves increasing the pressure from 250 pounds per square-inch (psi) to 5,000 psi.) “Sometimes, they would put their finger on the chart and slide it ahead — so that it only recorded the pressure for 30 seconds instead of 5 minutes,” he tells HuffPost.

Mason claims that a BP representative was usually present while subcontractors performed the tests.

The 48-year-old veteran oil worker claims that in the oil industry, particularly at BP, “the culture is basically safety procedures are shoved down your throat and then they look the other way when it’s convenient for them.” He claims that oil operators often wouldn’t report spills and that when he spilled chemical fluid in 2003, he was told by his superiors not to report it. Mason, who now runs a small operation hauling freight in the Alaskan bush and owns guest cabins, says he was fired by a drilling company in 2006 after he wrote a letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News to condemn the firm for incorporating overseas and thereby avoiding taxes.

Mason and another oil worker provided sworn statements in a 2003 lawsuit that rig supervisors “routinely falsified reports to show equipment designed to prevent blowouts was passing state-mandated performance tests,” reported the Wall Street Journal in 2005.

Mason was interviewed by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2005 during a probe into allegations that Nabors Drilling, a subcontractor to BP, falsified such tests, among other claims that BP failed to report blowouts at the massive Prudhoe Bay oil field. The probe was spurred by oil industry critic Charles Hamel, who forwarded his allegation to then-Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Hamel claims that BP is at fault for the falsification because “Nabors had nothing to gain by shortening the time because they got paid, and BP rep was on rig at all times.” He adds that BP was the beneficiary of a falsified test, claiming that the company rushes work and cuts corners to save money.

Jamie Friedland at Talking Points Memo:

As it turns out, the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing was much more interesting than its Senate counterpart.  Chairman Bart Stupak (D-MI, of abortion amendment fame) unleashed a blistering assault in his opening statement with some stunning new information.

It has been discovered that the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer had:

  1. A dead battery;
  2. Leaks in the hydraulic system that would activate the pistons in the [“unforeseeable”] event of an accident;
  3. By design, 260 different failures that could require the BOP’s removal and replacement;
  4. A useless test component installed, and;
  5. Cutting tools that were not strong enough to shear through 10% of the joints in the piping.

To clarify #5, the BOP is installed on the wellhead and the drill/piping are all threaded through it on their way into the subsurface.  In the event of a blowout, one or more of the pistons (this BOP has 5, 4 excluding the useless test installation) are supposed to drive a cutting tool to shear through whatever piping is currently in the BOP, sealing the well.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Why are the same people who designed faulty materials, who failed to follow safety procedures, STILL DESIGNING THE EQUIPMENT to stop a leak which has been gushing for three weeks? Apparently the Obama Administration has recruited five scientists, according to McClatchy, to work day and night on the problem. NOW we get a Manhattan Project.

This is all a consequence of aggressive deregulation by industry, the maneuvers whereby powerful interests save billions in safety costs. They follow the rules at their discretion, they practically own the regulatory agency. It’s amazing how much this mirrors the problems on Wall Street. And just like with Goldman Sachs, the criminal justice system may get involved.

Atrios:

So they messed up a bit, no big whoop.

WASHINGTON — In the days after an oil well spun out of control in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers tried to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment but failed because the device had been so altered that diagrams BP got from the equipment’s owner didn’t match the supposedly failsafe device’s configuration, congressional investigators said Wednesday.

I’m not optimistic that the people saying there will be criminal action are correct. Mary Landrieu will probably chain herself to a BP executive if they try to take one away in cuffs.

Echidne of the Snakes:

Don’t forget that this, too, is about free market fundamentalism:


Listening to an interview on National Public Radio the other day, I was struck by a comment made by one of the experts discussing the BP oil disaster in the Gulf. The person said that the reason Exxon had a better record on disasters than BP was it had its own engineers whose responsibility it was to second guess their sub-contractors. BP, he said, didn’t do this.

And why didn’t BP do it? Because it saved money by not having in-house engineers doing the oversight!

We must NOT forget those underlying connections. We are in these messes to a large part because the free market ideologists won. Yet I don’t see the general public getting angry at the firms the way the teabaggers are angry at the government, and I don’t see enough discussion about the need to reign in the forces of short-sighted greed. Those are the forces that we have been worshipping recently.

There is something else that the three disaster stories I told share: The costs fall first and hardest on the innocent. That those costs don’t fall first and hardest on the firms which cause them is the very reason for our problems. We know how to make the firms carry those costs but we are not doing it (yes, BP should pay for every single penny).

And that means more disasters in the future.

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