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Jeanine Molloff

Jeanine Molloff

Posted: September 27, 2010 01:42 PM

Newsweek ran a cover article this summer titled "Rude Awakening: Obama and the Tragedy in the Gulf." To quote the article, the authors explained the genesis of the disaster.

"The Deepwater Horizon story is about a single catastrophic event, but also about the limits of governmental regulation and the revenge on careless man." (Newsweek, June 7, 2010 by Evan Thomas and Daniel Stone.)

This statement implies that government regulation can do little to safeguard our land, water and the very air we breathe. This flawed statement also attributes the Deepwater Horizon disaster to a single, isolated event, but facts witnessed by congressional testimony of a BP whistleblower point to a pervasive pattern of premeditated negligence on BP's part, couched in a climate of deregulation that rewards the corporate foxes for raiding the henhouse in the Gulf.

Former BP engineering project manager Kenneth W. Abbott and his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on June 17, 2010, were virtually ignored by mainstream media. Abbott's voluntary testimony reveals a pattern of gross negligence regarding BP's overall operational practices and more specifically regarding operations on BP's Project Atlantis, a subsea well that dwarfs Deepwater Horizon. The fact that Abbott and his attorneys had to fight to give testimony points to the pervasive "wall of silence" granted major corporations such as BP -- no matter how heinous the alleged crimes.

BP Fails to Provide Basic Engineering Plan Procedures

Abbott documents BP's failure to follow the most basic planning procedures including the completion and provision of finalized engineering plans before beginning actual operations. He sought out public officials to report dangerous conditions at the work site, which were totally preventable if BP had followed engineering industry standards on Atlantis.

Atlantis has a potential load of oil and natural gas that rivals Saudi reserves. Unfortunately, Atlantis suffers from not only the same maintenance negligence as Deepwater Horizon, but serious allegations of gross negligence during the planning and actual building stages. In his testimony during the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing on June 17, 2010, Abbott essentially -- blew the whistle on BP, the US Department of Interior and the entire notion of total corporate deregulation.

Armed with an impressive corporate resume, Ken Abbott began a damning testimony against BP for a culture of corporate negligence fueled by greed. Abbott has worked for the likes of M.W. Kellogg, GTE Mobilnet, Stone & Webster, Brown & Root, Shell Oil, among others. Most of his career involved petrochemical and energy projects that included refineries and offshore facilities.

He openly admits that he is not an engineer, but rather a project manager whose duties include: establishment of schedules, budgets and performance audits. He has also managed engineering document control systems, database records and other records necessary for engineers to work efficiently. He was working on the BP Atlantis management team until March of 2009 when he was abruptly fired. His corporate "crime'"was demanding engineering specifications required for all projects BEFORE anything is built.

The Document Trail...

According to Abbott, the first phase of a project includes the design which must be documented from the large concept down to systems, subsystems, to the smallest individual parts. Complicated projects such as offshore wells which have serious safety and environmental concerns encompasses thousands of engineering documents, specifications, drawings, with each document undergoing several drafts and revisions by appropriate engineering professionals before approval of the final design.

Once the design is approved, it must be certified by appropriate engineering staff in terms of efficiency and safety according to engineering industry standards. This certification process includes any modifications, no matter how minor.

These engineering documents are used by vendors, builders for the actual construction. During construction, changes are made as needed but these changes must be approved by the engineering staff, and any drawings are modified and certified by engineering staff to match the actual construction. The final documents are referred to "As-Built" documents, meaning that these documents are current and correspond to the actual physical facility.

BP failed to maintain necessary engineering documents on ALL ASPECTS OF Atlantis. "As Built" documents are used by rig operators to guide testing, maintenance procedures and overall safety.

Petrochemical projects like Atlantis (and its infamous predecessor 'Deepwater'); depend on a specific subgroup of "as built" docs known as P&ID's or Piping & Instrument Diagrams. P&ID's are a spider web configuration that measure and control flow rates, temperatures and pressure readings during active operations. Pressure readings are an indicator of multiple issues including a potential buildup of methane, which can cause a chain reaction leading to -- major explosive force or -- blowing the well.

(Source: Statement of Kenneth W. Abbott to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing, June 17, 2010)

(Source: Richard Turton, Richard C. Bailie, Wallace B. Whiting, Joseph A Shaewitz, Analysis, Synthesis, and Design of Chemical Processes, 2nd Edition, 2003).

BP Atlantis : Built-in Negligence

Abbott testified that he began work on BP Atlantis in August of 2008, on the Subsea team. He was the "project controls lead" and was responsible for management of all required engineering documents. Furthermore, Abbott was assured on "As-Built" Documentation that..."The Lead Engineer for each discipline area will ensure that all technical documentation is updated to reflect the as-built condition of the equipment prior to deployment in the field." (House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing, June 17, 2010.)

Abbott explained further that the complex nature of BP Atlantis is due to the multiple components produced by various vendors forced to work together, and the obvious challenges associated with deepwater engineering projects. Consequently, the owner/operator, BP, must ensure that all components function together, which is called "integration." An engineer approving and signing off on documents includes this integration function.

BP Atlantis Project Unprepared for Safe Operation

Unfortunately, Abbott found the BP Atlantis project unprepared for safe operation. The Operations Department on Atlantis had been demanding "as-built" P&ID's, but they were not available. Atlantis had already been in operation for a year, with equipment deployed to the site long since. Abbott requested the needed documents and received an email response from his predecessor, Barry Duff, who had since been promoted. Duff wrote that the reason he was refusing the needed P&ID's was that:

"The P&ID's for Subsea are not complete have have [sic] not been approved or handed over to Operations."

"This could lead to catastrophic Operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct. Turning over incomplete drawings to the Operator for their use is a fundamental violation of basic Document Control, the IM Standard and Process Safety Regulations."

"Currently there are hundreds if not thousands of Subsea documents that have never been finalized, yet the facilities have been turned over."

Abbott attempted to obtain these documents from the time he began, to the day of his firing on February 5th, 2009, with no real success.

BP Atlantis Deficiencies

During Abbott's tenure at BP, he helped develop a database for all engineering documents with completion status coded for each document. Also included was the completion status of documents as claimed by Technip, the lead engineering contractor.

The database showed that a majority of documents and drawings were lacking any engineering approval at any phase of development. Of some 7,000+ documents, nearly 90% had never been approved in any category, including design. Abbott delineates the missing docs:

*"The oil and gas products under high pressure are managed, contained and transported to the floating surface vessel by the wellhead, the tree, the manifolds, pipelines and flowlines, controls and risers. For all of these systems, less than 10% were certified as approved by engineering."

*"The wellhead is the equipment which controls pressures inside the well at the upper end of the casing, below the tree -- none of those documents ever had any engineering approval."

*"The tree is a series of valves immediately above the well which have the same function as the BOP stack during drilling; they control pressures and can be used to shut down the well if needed; they are a critical part of the Safety Shutoff System. On Atlantis, they also include valves to control flows related to the manifolds. Of these critical components, 98% never received any engineering approval."

*The software logic for the safety shutoff system does not have engineering approval."

*Welding procedures for such critical systems as manifolds do not have engineering approval."

(Source: Statement of Kenneth W. Abbott to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing, June 17th, 2010 )

Abbott added that MMS (Mineral Management Service) and BP internal procedures require approval of all plans by engineers specializing in offshore structure design. No such engineering approval of the Atlantis design was obtained as documented by BP's own records.

Atlantis' Drill Centers Unprepared for Construction

Atlantis' Subsea component was constructed in "Drill Centers (DC's)" and once again, "approved for construction" documents were not available though construction was well underway. Additionally, equipment must be tested before going into service, yet BP's records did not correlate test results to the tested item, rendering such documents useless. Abbott cites the sloppy to nonexistent documentation (As-Builts incomplete or used without proper engineering certification), as a common denominator to other BP disasters such as Texas City, to Alaska, to Deepwater Horizon (blowout preventer modified and would not close)" to BP Atlantis.

In fact, Abbott cites the similarities of Deepwater Horizon deficiencies to Atlantis. Here they are:

*1.)... "blowout preventers did not close -- on Atlantis, safety shutdown system logic has not been engineer-approved; this could cause failure of shutdown systems;" *2.)... "rig crew did not understand makeup of blowout preventers -- this would be due to failure to have up to date as-built documents; same problem as Atlantis;" *3.)... "a mechanic apparently did not have access to manual shutdown procedures for diesel engines -- again, failure to have proper documentation;" *4.)... "there was apparently no gas sniffer and automatic shutdown for the diesel engines -- failure to have safety equipment which should have been present happens when proper engineering procedures are not followed."
(Source: Statement of Kenneth W. Abbott to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Hearing, June 17th, 2010)

Dept. of Interior and MMS Fail to Act

Abbott filed an official complaint to the BP Office of the Ombudsman a few days after his firing. He explains that this office was created to satisfy concerns regarding unsafe conditions at the Texas City Plant. No reply was provided after a year of attempted contacts.

He then emailed Earl Devaney, Inspector General of the Dept. of Interior at doioig.gov, with full disclosure of the unsafe conditions. It took several months to receive a response which confirmed receipt of Abbott's email and nothing else. He was later told that DOI could not act as Abbott was not a government employee.

Abbott then contacted an attorney in Texas from the firm of Perry & Haas. After supplying all his documentation; they wrote a letter asserting that BP was committing fraud at the federal government's expense by violating required regulations governing oil and gas operations in the Gulf. Copies were sent to the Attorney General and the local United States Attorney.

This firm filed a qui tam suit demanding that BP repay the government, and further documented the claim with an independent engineering report citing BP Atlantis deficiencies, stating that such negligence could cause a catastrophic event in the Gulf of Mexico. That was April of 2009.

On May 19, 2009, Abbott's attorneys met personally with an Assistant United States Attorney, and an attorney from the Department of the Interior patched in by phone. Additionally, four representatives from MMS, (Mr. Saucier, Mr. Domangue, Ms. Moser, and Mr. Herbst) were included in the phone conference. MMS officials claimed that Atlantis was safe and no further action was required.

May 27, 2009, Abbott's attorneys wrote another letter to the Department of the Interior attorney warning of an "imminent risk of catastrophe to the Gulf of Mexico," caused by deep water drilling using improper engineering procedures.

Later on, Abbott was present during a personal meeting with the Asst. United States Attorney, attorneys from DOJ, DOI and MMS. MMS representatives again insisted that BP Atlantis was safe, yet no proof of safety was provided.

Abbott finally received a written response from the ombudsman, Judge Sporkin, which verified his complaints concerning incomplete and nonexistent documentation for Atlantis. Judge Sporkin confirmed that BP lacked necessary documents for the Atlantis project. MMS still refuses to take any action. Abbott now relies on attorneys from Food and Water Watch (FWW), who have contacted members of congress to demand action.

Conclusion

The fact that this important congressional testimony has been relegated to an online resource, not reported in the mainstream media, is a horror. The fact that this important testimony has not been pursued by the Senate is criminal and speaks to the lack of accountability and transparency in our government.

Sufficient evidence exists to make a case for gross negligence of a historical nature at both Deepwater Horizon and BP Atlantis. In short, the disaster at Deepwater could have been prevented, and the operation of BP Atlantis must be halted. Rather than have BP pay fines, the facilities involving our water, air and land space should be nationalized, BP's assets seized until effective reparation is achieved, and finally -- BP's top executives and their attorneys' criminally prosecuted for acts of premeditated gross negligence and ecological terrorism. Anything less is an open invitation for more disasters. Anything less is an injustice to our children and their future.