The Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster that continues to dump 20,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil everyday into the Gulf poses more questions than answers. We still do not know how it happened or whether BP will pay for its reported drive for profits over safety.
President Obama’s latest effort to insure BP’s financial liability has led him to press BP to set up a fund, of up to $20 billion, from which those harmed, might be reimbursed. This tactic emerged in the wake of fears that the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990 would cap BP’s liability at $75 million. If it can be shown that BP committed gross negligence or violated applicable safety standards, the cap, however, will be pierced.
A June 14th letter from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce to BP CEO Tony Hayward outlines some of BP’s gross negligence:
- Using a well design that had few barriers to gas flow; BP had two options when installing the final section of steel tubing the day before the blowout. It could lower a string of “casing” from the top of the wellhead to the bottom of the well or hang a “liner” from the lower end and install a “tieback” on top of the liner. A BP plan prepared days before the blowout advised against the “casing” tactic, but BP chose to pursue that method because the liner-tieback option would cost $7-10 million more and delay drilling three days longer.
- Failing to use an adequate number of centralizers to prevent channeling during the cement process; BP knew that the well could have a SEVERE gas flow problem, if BP used only six centralizers instead of 21. Centralizers are attachments that fit around the casing to keep it in the center of the borehole while it is being lowered. One BP official noted, in an e-mail on April 16, that the 10 hours it would take to install the extra centralizers was too much time.
- Failing to run a cement bond log to determine the effectiveness of the cement job; BP’s mid-April plan predicted that the cement process would fail; however, BP did not take the time to run a cement bond log, a 9-12 hour procedure, which would have established whether the cement had bonded correctly with the casing. Nine to 12 hours, the $128,000 cost of the test, and remediation of any discovered problems were apparently too great of a sacrifice for BP to make. An independent expert hired by the Congressional Committee stated that not preforming the test when using a single casing method was “unheard of” and “horribly negligent.”
- Failing to fully circulate possible gas-bearing drilling muds out of the well; this procedure would have permitted workers to test for influxes of gas, allowed a controlled release of gas pockets, and guaranteed removal of well cuttings. Though this process is recommended by the American Petroleum Institute, BP only partially circulated the mud, saving 12 hours.
- Failing to install a casing hanger lockdown sleeve that would have stopped the seal from being blown out from below and secured the well.
All signs point to what many have believed; BP sacrificed safety, the environment, and the interests of the American people in an effort to turn a larger profit at a faster pace. The contents of the Committee’s letter to the BP CEO indicate that BP was grossly negligent and likely violated applicable safety standards. What is even more likely is that these actions only represent the “tip of the iceberg in this tragic story.