Yesterday, National Academy of Engineering committee chair Donald Winter submitted preliminary findings about BP's Macondo well blowout to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Among other criticisms of BP's and Transocean's management (or lack thereof) that led up to the April 20 catastrophe, Winter characterized as a key finding the companies' "lack of a suitable approach for anticipating and managing the inherent risks, uncertainties, and dangers associated with deepwater drilling operations and a failure to learn from previous near misses."
Though only preliminary, the report took issue with a number of BP's conclusions in its own report issued in September that attempted to spread blame over as many parties as possible, ignoring critical management decisions that it's own people had made that contributed to the blowout. Specifically, the report does point out that installing a long string, which runs from the top of the well all the way to bottom, rather than the safer liner that only covers the open hole and provides an additional downhole barrier and is better risk management. It seems that everyone but BP now agrees with that finding.
Also contrary to BP's conclusions that the blowout went down the outside of the casing, through bad cement, up through the shoe track through different bad cement, through two float valves and up the well, the committee said that we may never know the true path of the blowout since all of those elements are forever buried under thousand of feet of cement. We all know that BP's conclusion just coincidently happen to follow the path that spread the blame to as many parties as possible including Halliburton, Weatherford, and Transocean rather than themselves for high risk design. Apparently, the Academy committee is not so convinced.
A common theme in the report was that poor decision making, complacency, over confidence, and the lack of checks and balances in BP's organization created an environment where rig and onshore managers failed to recognize the signs of an increasingly dangerous well. Failure to recognize the flow of hydrocarbons into the well above the blowout preventer was the fatal mistake, but many ingrained organizational factors contributed to that blindness. Hurrying to get off the well, too many decision makers, and simultaneous complex operations all contributed. As we have also pointed out, the committee has concluded that changing rig managers in the middle of these operations contributed to the confusion prior to the blowout.
We will continue to follow this story as the accident investigations continue. The forensic evidence from the blowout preventer will be key; that is, if they ever get around to testing the damn thing rather than stupidly letting it rust away sitting on the dock in Louisiana while lawyers argue over who's going to test it. That's a developing story that we are also following.
Bob Cavnar, a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, is the author of Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout, recently released by Chelsea Green Publishing Company.