Dispute Resolved Over Blowout Preventer Access

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 @ 03:11 PM gHale

Tests can now begin on the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer as a dispute between two federal agencies over access to the forensic examination came to an end over the weekend.
The Chemical Safety Board, asked by Congress to investigate the April 20 blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, had threatened legal action if it was not allowed independent access to the testing of the massive BOP stack. The blowout preventer and the Lower Marine Riser Package, which form the BOP stack, are at a NASA facility in Michoud, LA.
The start of testing was almost delayed over a dispute between CSB and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), consisting of the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The JIT hired contractor DNV Columbus to conduct the actual testing and had compiled a group of five technical experts who sit in the room and offer technical advice during the procedure.
CSB said they should also be in the room. In that regard they won, but the CSB continued to object, saying it wanted equal and unfettered access to the BOP to conduct its own independent investigation.
After days of talks, CSB said over the weekend that it would agree to the testing protocols and be present at the examination, even though it did not get everything it was seeking.
“The CSB plans to sign the testing agreement and be present on Monday in Louisiana, although we continue to have significant concerns about the testing arrangements,” officials said in a statement Sunday. “These concerns include the lack of independent photography, the lack of an appropriate dispute resolution mechanism among the federal agencies of jurisdiction, and excessive restrictions on personnel in the testing area.”
The JIT on November 1 picked the team of six members, called the “technical working group,” that can be in the same room with the BOP while its contractor conducts its probe. Team members come from: CSB; Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig; Cameron, which manufactured the BOP; BP; the Department of Justice; and an expert representing the plaintiffs in a multi-district civil litigation in a New Orleans court.
Due to the heavy damage suffered in the blowout, it remains unclear how valuable an examination of the BOP will be.
Still, examiners could uncover important bits of data that might help the broader investigation, said Elmer “Bud” Danenberger, a former employee of the former Minerals Management Service who oversaw offshore inspection and enforcement programs, among other duties.
“While the inspection and testing will be quite technical, some important aspects should be rather straightforward,” Danenberger said.
“What is the position of the rams, particularly the shear ram? What is the condition of the ram elements and annular preventer? Is there evidence of control line leakage? What can be determined about the electronics and the sequencing system designed to automatically actuate the shear ram when power is lost or when the riser is disconnected?”

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