BP Exec Admits to Senate Hearing What We All Knew Anyway

Much of the testimony before the Senate Committees yesterday consisted of what we expected: finger pointing, delay, evasive answers, but not much light, with the exception of this one statement by Lamar McKay, BP America’s president:

We don’t know yet precisely what happened on the night of April 20th, but what we do know is that there were anomalous pressure test readings prior to the explosion.  These could have raised concerns about well control prior to the operation to replace mud with sea water in the well in preparation for setting of the cement plug.

Anomalous pressure test readings.”  Translation: 

There was pressure on the BOP prior to opening it after the pressure test, but since there was no BP company man on the rig floor during this critical operation, it was missed by the rig crew prior to opening it.

This was the most enlightening moment in the hours of testimony and sparring with the Senators during the two hearings.  The other hours were consumed by “we’re still gathering data,” “we don’t know yet,” and the ever popular, “it was the other guy’s responsibility.”  They say they don’t have the data yet.  I don’t believe that for a minute.  Data from offshore rigs are streamed continuously by satellite link directly into the offices of the lease holder, the rig operator, and the service companies working on the rig.  Industry executives can sit in their offices in Houston and watch live on their computer screens every bit of information from the rig, including mud weight, pressures, flows, revolutions, weight on the bit, and dozens of other measures including exact position of the rig over the wellhead.  For each of these companies to claim they haven’t gathered the data is flatly false.  The data is there; I’m sure that it is being held back as the companies jockey for legal defense positions.  They darn sure weren’t going to reveal it during a witch hunt conducted in a Washington, DC hearing room.

I am pretty convinced now that my initial conclusion about the cause of this accident was correct.  BP and Transocean let their guards down.  The well was cemented, the bottom plug had been set, and the casing hanger packoff set and tested.  The senior drilling managers and supervisors were off of the floor at a party with BP bigwigs.  The rig crew was left on its own to finish up the last details, preparing to move the rig off the well.  Everyone turned their backs on this beast, thinking it was safely caged.  Somebody just forgot to make sure the door was locked.

Why do I think that they let down their guards?  Look at the list of those tragically killed in this blowout: 9 Transocean workers, 2 MI Swaco mud engineers.  If there was a BP supervisor on the floor, the name of that person would also be on this list.  It’s not. 

Now you know the real cause of this disaster.


  1. Desperado says

    I liked Olbermann’s line last night. “The only party they didn’t blame were the dinosaurs that died to make the oil.”

  2. 81tamu says

    [quote] at a party with BP bigwigs.[/qoute]
    I believe this one item is at the center of the problems. Celebrate with your crew -on land – when the job is finished. I know that the photo-ops for the annual report are not as cool, but at least their people are not distracted from their jobs.

  3. lomamonster says

    So Bob… Why wouldn’t my idea of a cryogenic attack on the well head work to plug it instead of tossing tires and golf balls down it? Why not super freeze the hydrocarbons and then add more cement on top?

  4. inventor says

    I see here that BP admits hydraulic problems with BOP
    It fall in line with the theory that the BOP operated partially, maybe nearly completely closed, but not entirely due to lack of hydraulic force to close them and keep them closed.
    Which leads to two questions:
    1) is there no gauging of hydraulic pressure in the BOP actuators? Should there have been an alarm?
    2) Should redundant BOP stacks with separate hydraulics be required? Doesn’t Statoil require them?

  5. theone says

    The sadness of all this to the families and the industry is forgetting to ‘ sweat the small stuff so there won’t be any big stuff ‘.
    Kudos to you Eljefe.

  6. says

    Won’t it be great if the three CEO’s (stooges) wrapped their arms around each other
    pledged to take care of the problem rather than finger pointing. You know, sort of
    like adults. But, of course, the finger pointing is just an act anyway.

  7. Chuck Schamel says

    I’m not an expert in the field, but I can see that there are a few BIG problems with a cryogenic attack at the wellhead.
    1. The wellhead is 5000 ft underwater. It’d be EXCEEDINGLY hard to get a useful amount of cryogenic liquid down there. You’d have to either establish a mile-long HEAVILY-insulated line to the surface OR lower tanks of liquid gasses down to the bottom.
    2. Cooling the fluids in the BOP enough to freeze ‘em solid MIGHT work if you could stop the flow for a little while. If you can’t do that, the oil will just carry the “cold” right downstream and prevent it from concentrating enough to solidify things.
    3. Unless the joint between the BOP and the riser is rock-solid (a question I’ve asked in another commentary thread) you run ANOTHER big risk. Anything that’ll help plug things up in the wellhead (BOP) is likely to catch in the kinks of the riser. If this happens, the pressure in the BOP/riser joint could climb enough to blow the riser off – then we lose whatever pressure drop we’re getting now from the kinked-up riser and the flow rate could climb SIGNIFICANTLY!!
    Along a related line, however, there MIGHT be a possibility of using the chill of the expanding methane in the flow to plug things up. You’d still have to worry about problem #3, but if they just started pumping cold water in through the choke/kill valves in the BOP, they might get the hydrates that formed in the “Macondome” to form inside the pipe and plug things up that way.

  8. bubbabobcat says

    Thank you Bob. Excellent analysis and insight and you can’t find a clearer smoking gun than the casualty list. You remind me of the clear and level headed thinking and keen insight of the brilliant Physicist the late Dr. Richard Feynman in the Challenger disaster inquiry. He demonstrated the cause of the rubber O ring seal failure in a press conference by dipping the material into a cup of ice water for a few seconds and then snapped it like a twig. The Challenger launched in an unusual Florida cold front in sub-freezing temperatures. They should appoint you to head some type of Warren Commission for this tragic disaster to get to the bottom of this mess and prevent it from ever occurring again.

  9. Old Man says

    “Everyone turned their backs on this beast, thinking it was safely caged. Somebody just forgot to make sure the door was locked.”
    The cage door is not the BOP, but the cement across the formation at the bottom of the hole. It is not there because the well is still flowing.

  10. carguy says

    Old tires ang golf balls PSHAW.
    You wanna “clog” something up real good…..human hair, lots of it, and “Barbie” doll parts. Thrown in some old sanitary napkins and you’ll shut down that well pronto. TRust me.

  11. Carolsb says

    Carguy, Pshaw??? Too funny!
    And you are quite correct on your ideas for plugging up the leak…lol!

  12. Bob Cavnar says

    Sounds like a disgruntled employee, though there is probably some truth to it. I just don’t believe that cheating on BOP tests is pervasive. I’ve never been on a drilling rig that cheated on the test. The BOP is the life saver, and everyone knows it.

  13. inventor says

    Looking at the video and the still photo released today:
    I don’t think they are from the same place on the riser. The video appears to be from the broken end of the pipe, which was sealed off with a valve a few days ago. Notice the gas and oil have separated, indicating the restriction is well upstream.
    BP said capping the end of the pipe did not effect the overall flow. I think that is why they released this video. If I’m right, the flow of oil here is inconsequential compared with the main two leakage points.

  14. lomamonster says

    The incredible toxicity of methanol has me worried in the present scenario with the top hat. That is what they propose to pump down there to keep things warming and promote the freedom of flow. Methanol kills damn near everything, and even the fumes on the surface will be deadly.

  15. lomamonster says

    Oh, and by the by, I’ll bet NASA has enough hose AND liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze half the planet at a moment’s notice!

  16. offshore778 says

    You’re correct Bob, cheating on the inspection of any piece of safety equipment isn’t pervasive. I’ve only worked on two drilling rigs and they have both been floating facilities, but I’m a ballast control operator and I’ve never worked on a drill floor. I do know, though, that a lot of critical safety equipment inspections are done by a third party. I don’t know if this is the case with BOP testing, but on larger facilities even very critical systems like fire and gas detection are tested by a third party. In any event, it would be the ultimate responsibility of the owner or operators of a facility to ensure that third party inspections aren’t being “pencil whipped”.
    In March, the Morgan City USCG inspection office gave a presentation called “Common Deficiencies on the Outer Continental Shelf”. It covered the most common issues that inspectors from all along the Gulf coast were running into offshore. One of the biggest issues just happened to be differences in paper work and reality on inspections performed by third parties.

  17. RockheadedMama says

    Oil spill investigators find critical problems in blowout preventer
    A senior House Democrat said that the blowout preventer that failed to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of one of the devices that was supposed to close the flow of oil and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through joints that made up 10 percent of the drill pipe.
    In a devastating review of the blowout preventer that BP said was supposed to be “fail-safe,” Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said in a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday that the device was anything but fail-safe.
    Stupak said that the committee investigators had also uncovered a document prepared in 2001 by the drilling rig operator Transocean that said there were 260 “failure modes” that could require removal of the blowout preventer.

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