Gulf Spill: Disaster ‘Inevitable;’ Results ‘Hopeful’

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 @ 12:01 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
It was no secret throughout the oil and gas industry BP had a poor process safety record, but for those people investigating the April 20 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that claimed 11 lives and gushed millions of gallons of oil, they had to keep an open mind.

“The main question we had to ask ourselves is this the misbehavior of one company that has a poor process safety record?” Asked William K. Reilly, co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling during a talk Monday night entitled “Deep Water, The Gulf Oil Disaster and America’s Energy Future” at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. “From my experience in the oil and gas industry, BP had that reputation. What we did find out is the three main companies all had a hand in the disaster.”

The three companies Reilly talked about were BP, Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and Halliburton, which installed a cement casing for drill operations.

In the report we have one page with a series of charts that talked about critical mistakes, Reilly said. “Seven out of nine (bad) decisions were made to save time.”

While BP is at fault, in terms of other scenarios, Halliburton used faulty cement, Transocean did not catch the fact there were incorrect pressure readings going on. “This was not the blunder of a rogue company, but a series of mistakes from three,” Reilly said. He also added the government was not devoid of blame. He said if he was grading the government’s action on the event, it would get a F for its activity up to the April blast; a D for the first three weeks after the incident and then an A after those first three weeks.

Reilly added some likened his commission to the one created after the 9-11 commission investigating the terrorist attacks. He disagreed.

This was not an evil, terrorist act like 911, he said. “These were the blunders of well meaning men and women. There were decisions made by people that are no longer alive.”

One of the main problems behind the disaster was the three companies had communications problems. Those issues also played into the hands of a certain level of complacency by all parties involved, Reilly said. There were people, Reilly said, that said they were just not prepared for this type of event. No one expected this kind of calamity. Reilly went on to say Tony Hayward, former BP chief executive, told him BP had no subsea capability to handle such a disaster.

In January, the commission issued its report, “Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling,” and proposed government and industry actions “to overhaul the U.S. approach to drilling safety and greatly reduce the chances of a similar, large-scale disaster in the future.”

One of the recommendations the commission made in its report was to create a safety institute, which would involve a system that involves audits, deep investigations, evaluations and grades of companies and their contractors.

“The idea behind the safety institute is for all companies to behave according to best practices,” he said.

In the final analysis, Reilly feels the commission issued a “hopeful report.”

The disaster, he said, “was almost the inevitable result of years of industry and government complacency and lack of attention to safety.”

On the positive side, Reilly said the country united to try and do what it could to help fix the problem. “It’s a hopeful process we just went through. We went through a calamity and we came through it with a positive response,” he said.

“What we have experienced is a catastrophe and it took lives,” Reilly said. “This is something we can control. We can’t do it in a year, but it can be done.”

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