05/24/2010 02:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

BP's Story Changes Again -- Top Kill Delayed, Less Oil Being Recovered

Yesterday, BP said it was once again delaying the top kill, also announcing that they collected less oil through the riser insertion tool (RIT) than on Thursday, 2,200 barrels vs the 5,000 announced previously.  What was frustrating, though, was that their story keeps changing, while claiming that what they said only a day or two before was not what they had said at all.  Before we talk about the latest shape shifting, let's review BP's public disclosures the last 32 days.  First, the day the Deepwater Horizon sank, two days after the blowout, BP said that no oil was flowing from the well into the Gulf.  In fact, the biggest concern seemed the diesel in the fuel tanks on the rig.  A day later, though, they admitted that the well was flowing, but only about 1,000 barrels per day.  They stuck with that story for a week, ultimately shifting the estimate upward to 5,000 barrels a day, but concealing all videos of the well, of which you know they had hours, if not days of tape.  BP tenaciously clung to that estimate, backed by the Coast Guard and MMS, for almost a month, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the flow was much, much higher.  They also refused to give any data to the public so someone else could calculate an estimate of the flow, and continue that policy even now.  Out of frustration, the government has finally ordered the formation of a multi-agency Flow Rate Technical Team, tasked with figuring out the flow and disclosing it since BP won't.

Earlier yesterday, BP reluctantly admitted that the well flow was higher than 5,000 barrels per day when they announced that they were indeed collecting that much through the RIT, even as thousands of barrels continue to boil out of the end of the wrecked riser and the widening crack in the kink above the blowout preventer, viewed live on streaming video finally provided after Congressman Ed Markey demanded the feed.  BP spokesman, Mark Salt, had earlier disclosed the increased captured volume by saying, "It's now capturing 5,000 barrels per day of oil."   That story didn't last long, however, when BP America's CEO, Doug Suttles, changed the story to 2,200 barrels late yesterday saying,

"We never said it produced 5,000 barrels a day.  I am sorry if you heard it that way."

"Sorry if you heard it that way"?  I think we heard it that way because that's what you said.  I do actually believe I understand what both Salt and Suttles were meaning, though; Salt was talking about current rate of flow, and Suttles was talking actual barrels recovered.  The stumbling and changing stories is amateurish, exemplified by the May 3rd announcement by BP spokesman, Jeff Childs, that they had been able to close the blowout preventer, reducing flow from the well, only to be corrected by BP in a terse, one sentence retraction a few hours later with no further information.  Clearly the well is slugging fluid and gas, meaning that rate is variable.  If they were just being more honest about the rate, though, I believe everyone would give them the benefit of the doubt.  Since they are not being forthcoming, no one believes a word they say.

Late yesterday, BP delayed the much publicized top kill procedure yet again, citing delays in staging mud and equipment.  The length of time this has taken has surprised me, especially since the top kill has been their only real option from day one to stop this well before the relief well gets there in another four or 5 weeks.  BP has hundreds of ships, thousands of people, and have been working at the wellhead for weeks preparing for this kill.  To delay over staging seems a stretch.  I believe that they are dithering over what to do with the damaged riser and the drillpipe within.  Nobody wants to make a mistake, so decisions are being made at a the glacial pace.

An incident of this magnitude is certainly difficult to manage; no one is arguing that point.  What I continue to observe, though, is that many of BP's missteps are occurring because there is so little real information being disclosed.  Their message has been so tightly controlled that some spokespersons are being caught being just a little too forthcoming, only to be jerked back by the tight leash being held by BP in London.  Senior management is so tone deaf that they have taken on the "Don't you worry your head, little lady, it's too complicated for you to understand" attitude, treating readily available information, such as flow and pressures as some mysterious, unobtainable number, heavily editing video feeds and withholding actual technical data.  That leads to frustration of the general public, but drives those of us in the industry crazy, knowing that they have a lot more information than what they're disclosing.

Oil on the beach and interminable delays, in addition to dozens of "press briefings" where nothing is really said, has fed a growing frustration in the press and fear among the public that BP either doesn't know what it's doing, or is not being honest.  I believe that both are actually true.  BP doesn't want to say how bad things really are, trying to protect itself and is having a serious problem deciding how it's going to kill this beast.

I will continue to call for an independent team inside the response center to keep things moving.  The Flow Rate Technical Team is a start.  It needs to be immediately expanded to encompass operations and decision making.   

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