Oil Rig Disaster: Start the Blame Game

Friday, April 30, 2010 @ 03:04 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
It is easy to sit on your couch and say BP is to blame for this entire oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and in the end they may just be at fault.
Isn’t that the way things go in the work world these days: Cut costs, maximize profitability, meet your quarterly numbers, increase productivity, squeeze the most you can out of the process and when a disaster occurs, find the perfect foil to blame.
Looking at the Deepwater Horizon explosion that left 11 dead, reports are coming out today that say the failure of a blowout preventer to shut off the flow of oil on the drilling rig and the lack of a third backup safety measure, known as a remote control acoustic shut off switch, to operate the blowout preventer, help escalate the incident to the complete disaster it has now become.
The accident has led to one of the largest ever oil spills in U.S. water. On top of that investigators said the disaster is now releasing 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf, up from original estimates of 1,000 barrels a day.
Here is where the blame game can start: U.S. regulators don’t mandate use of the remote-control device on offshore rigs, and the Deepwater Horizon, hired by BP, didn’t have one as an extra added safety measure. With the remote control, a crew can attempt to trigger an underwater valve that shuts down the well even if the oil rig itself is damaged or evacuated.
On all offshore oil rigs, there is one main switch for cutting off the flow of oil by closing a valve located on the ocean floor. There are also rigs that have automatic systems, such as a “dead man” switch as a backup that should close the valve if it senses a catastrophic failure aboard the rig.
As a third line of defense, some rigs have the acoustic trigger: It’s a football-sized remote control that uses sound waves to communicate with the valve on the seabed floor and close it. An acoustic trigger costs about $500,000, industry officials said. To put that in perspective a bit, the replacement cost for the Deepwater Horizon was $560 million.
The acoustic switch, which have been tested in simulations, are a last resort and don’t really have a proven track record.
BP said the Deepwater Horizon did have a “dead man” switch, which should have automatically closed the valve on the seabed in the event of a loss of power or communication from the rig. BP does not know why it didn’t shut off the well.
Industry consultants and petroleum engineers said an acoustic remote-control may have been able to stop the well, but too much is still unknown about the accident to say that with certainty.
So, who will end up suffering the repercussions from this disaster? Will it be BP? Rig owner, Transocean? How about Congress for not legislating and demanding the acoustic switch?
It will take a while to find out what really happened, but hopefully, everyone learns from the disaster so it never happens again.
Talk to me: ghale@isssource.com

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