As the errors leading up to the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf come to light, parallels between the Deepwater Horizon and another offshore rig, BP's Atlantis, have become increasingly clear.
Among dozens of internal documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday was an email showing a BP engineer called Deepwater Horizon a "nightmare well" days before the blast occurred. Despite such warnings from its own engineers, BP insisted on money-saving shortcuts, choosing riskier casing options for the platform's steel tubes among other things.
Another internal email written by a BP engineer in August 2008, characterized BP's Atlantis as having the potential for "catastrophic Operator errors." BP chose to deny the problems at Atlantis, going so far as to send a letter to Congress stating the claims were unsubstantiated.
"It's the same pathological pattern that's been going on and it begs the question... shouldn't we look at Atlantis with the same suspicion we should have viewed Deepwater Horizon with, now that we know the same corners were cut?" Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva told HuffPost on Tuesday.
Grijalva's take on the emails: "Each new revelation that comes out regarding Horizon--like the one [yesterday] where the engineer knew that the setting was improper and that something could happen--begs the question are we doing anything about Atlantis and the potential for an even bigger catastrophe there?"
John Breaux, a Louisiana senator-turned-lobbyist, argued that Deepwater Horizon is an isolated incident. "Very serious mistakes were made in a number of different areas, probably by a number of different companies that caused this Deepwater Horizon to have the catastrophe it did," he told Chris Matthews on "Hardball" Monday night. "But if you look back over the last 60 years... [at] production in the Gulf of Mexico, you've had over 40,000 wells drilled successfully with a minimum amount of damage to the environment, producing energy for this country. One mistake does not an industry make."
An accident at the Atlantis platform could result in a spill 40 times larger than the one currently spreading throughout the Gulf, according to Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. Oil flow from Horizon has already surpassed the 10.8 million gallon Exxon Valdez spill -- a worst-case scenario spill by the Atlantis could exceed the Exxon Valdez spill within just two days.
Grijalva spearheaded a letter in February calling for the Mineral Management Service to fully investigate reports that BP's Atlantis is operating without crucial engineering documents. "We've been asking them at minimum to suspend production on Atlantis until the rig has been found to be safe," Grijalva explained. "I don't think that's too much to ask... All we're saying is let's preempt something bad from happening"
Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar responded last week. Operations at the Atlantis will continue while regulators investigate the allegations, he said, and the department won't have any answers until mid-September. Grijalva was disappointed by the response but not surprised: "I don't know how much more dysfunctional [the MMS] can become," he said.
Food & Water Watch, for its part, has been working to shut down Atlantis for years. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the group has an example of what they have been working to prevent.
"The tragic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform is an urgent reminder of the calamity that could occur if BP's Atlantis platform is operating without the approved documents necessary for ensuring its safety," said Hauter. "We believe that the Deepwater Horizon spill was not a freak accident... Are there other platforms in the Gulf operating under similar unsafe circumstances? The public deserves to know."
Grijalva was floated as a possible Interior Secretary in the fall of 2008. His strong environmental record and chairmanship of the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands made him a favorite among environmentalists. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Grijalva has written additional letters to the Minerals Management Service and the Department of the Interior questioning current offshore drilling procedures and demanding stronger oversight of the oil industry.