Speculation and wild allegations have begun to swirl around the blowout of BP’s Mississippi Canyon Block 252 well as efforts continue to control the spill and get the well killed. One rumor tossed around by talking heads is that the US oil and gas industry got the MMS to not require a safety system used in the North Sea, calling it an “acoustic switch” that would have prevented the blowout on the Transocean Horizon. LIke most complex issues, it’s just not that easy.
First, there’s no such thing as an “acoustic switch”. What people are talking about is a communication and control system that doesn’t require an umbilical from the sea floor to the rig for control of subsea components, especially the blowout preventer. Here’s a video from Cameron that gives a pretty good description of their version of an acoustic communication system (Sorry, it’s a sales video, so you have to ignore the music and the sales pitch):
While very sophisticated, the system basically performs the safety function of a “deadman” system, where the BOP will slam shut if it loses communication with the rig through the umbilical in the event of a catastrophic event such as this one. In this particular incident, something clearly jammed the shear rams in the BOP; so, even if the Horizon had had an acoustic system installed, it very likely would not have resulted in a different outcome.