By Joe Rutherford
Imagine what might have been if BP executives had chosen caution and insisted on a more elaborate drilling process at the Deepwater Horizon rig. The crude oil now washing up on the beaches and marshes of the Gulf Region might just be a doomsday scenario in an environmentalist’s head, rather than a disaster of epic proportions.
An examination of documents obtained by Orlando Sentinel reporter Kevin Spear suggests the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico might have been prevented if BP had spent more time and money to ensure that its drilling operations were as foolproof as possible. Instead, BP officials opted to complete the final phase of its well with a single section of pipe called a “casing” and a single injection of cement.
The documents and oilfield engineers who examined them raise the possibility that the disaster could have been prevented if BP had instead completed the well with a type of pipe called “liner” and a section of casing, and with both locked in place with cement. That approach, the most common in the Gulf’s deepwater drilling areas, might have better kept the pressurized petroleum under control. But deploying the additional liner would have delayed completing the Deepwater Horizon well, and cost BP more money – up to $1 million a day by most estimates.
The final cement injection is suspected to have broken down, allowing oil and gas to erupt into the rig. The resulting explosion killed 11 rig operators and led to the ecological carnage now playing out in the Gulf.
The documents and engineers suggest that BP put its priorities on expediency and profits over safety in its quest to extract oil. Be it BP’s decision to forgo the lining process, or Transocean’s apparent unwillingness to adequately maintain the rig’s blowout preventer designed to seal the well and prevent a blowout, time is money.
Government investigators and review panels now mustn’t waste time in getting to the heart of exactly how such shortcutting of safeguards could have been allowed to happen, and just how pervasive is the sidestepping of more cautious approaches to drilling throughout the petroleum industry. Those are questions congressional committees and a presidential commission co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham will need to address.
Along with so much else that went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon blowout – and the perverse relationship between government regulators and Big Oil.
For example, why did government regulators let drillers write their own inspection reports?
Why do some managers at the Minerals Management Service, who reportedly ignored scientists’ concerns about the environmental risks of some offshore drilling operations, still work there? Particularly since the Obama administration before the Deepwater Horizon blowout vowed to clean up the government’s oversight of the industry?
And why has Congress so actively pushed tax breaks and subsidies for an industry that doesn’t need them? And which consequently made it easier for Big Oil to drill in costly, remote areas where emergency response plans are inadequate?
It’s a billowing mess that investigators need to fully expose and speedily fix.
- Orlando Sentinel