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John Hopkins

Updating the Tragedy — BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf OIl Disaster



Hearings have been occurring in connection with the investigation of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the Gulf Oil Disaster. Hearings have been held in New Orleans jointly by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Many of the revelations coming out of the testimony at the hearings are interesting, but witnesses who have refused to appear or those who have been reticent to testify on certain matters are also of note.

A BP lawyer testified that the Deepwater Horizon had 390 “past due” maintenance items that should have been corrected and, which were found during a September 2009 audit of the rig. The lawyer testified that the corrections would have required 3,545 man hours to complete. All this data was set forth in a 30 page report submitted to the rig owner, Transocean, long before the tragic explosion on April 20, 2010.

Also testifying was Stephen Bertone, the chief engineer of the Deepwater Horizon rig. He testified that (8) months before the explosion the rig’s propeller that assisted in maneuvering the rig had been “having problems”. Bertone could not recall how many of the 390 deficiencies on the oil rig had been corrected before the explosion and subsequent oil spill.

Bertone also testified that he did not recall whether the general alarm had been bypassed, but did not recall hearing it go off. Bertone said he did not know whether the system for purging gas from the drill shack had been bypassed. This system was the one that kept gas from accumulating and what ultimately ended up igniting the massive explosion that did occur.

Stephen Bertone does recall that hours before the deadly blowout at BP’s Macondo well, a larger than normal number of crew members was gathered in the drilling control room on board the Deepwater Horizon.

“At that point I knew there was something going on, but I didn’t know what it was,” Bertone said.

The visit to the rig’s drill shack, where it was “standing room only,” took place about 5:30 pm, he said.

Later, shortly before 10 p.m., Bertone was reading in his bed when he heard what sounded like a freight train running through his room, then a boom. He felt thumping and saw the lights go out. That set up a chain of events that eventually led to a frenzied exit from the fiery rig.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to inquire with Bertone whether he may have asked, “gee, what is everyone here about” or “what’s the problem”, or hey, guys, what’s up”? Instead, all we know is he went to bed to read.

Bertone said he does recall reviewing an audit before the accident that found larger maintenance issues requiring Deepwater Horizon to go to the shipyard in early 2011 for work on thrusters, engines, seawater systems, ballast systems and drilling equipment.

Mike Williams, a subordinate of Stephen Bertone’s, suggested that some key safety functions on board the rig were set to bypass when the accident occurred.

BP’s well-site manager, Donald Vidrine, declined to testify at the hearings; reportedly due to health concerns.

So far, what we have in the testimony seems to be a frightening inventory of neglect and carelessness on at least the part of the rig operator, BP and the rig owner, Transocean. There seems to be at least some scintilla of suspicion that any of the neglected problems on the Deepwater Horizon may have cause d or contributed to this tragedy. There also seems to be some concern that memories are not as sharp as maybe we had hoped or honesty is in short supply.


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