BP’s Internal Report Doesn’t Hold Up Under Academy Scrutiny

At the request of the Department of Interior, the National Academy of Engineering formed a special committee to study the causes of the blowout of BP’s Mississippi Canyon Block 252 well, dubbed Macondo.  The investigation of the blowout started in June, but news was made yesterday as the committee publicly interviewed members of BP’s internal investigation team for the first time, as well as other parties.  You’ll recall that BP’s report, described by drilling contractor Transocean as “self serving”, was issued earlier this month.  You’ll also recall that of the eight failures identified by BP as the causes of the blowout, BP only took partial responsibility for two, completely ignoring key issues such as casing design and circulation prior to the cement job.  BP’s team, led by Mark Bly, BP Group Head of Safety and Operations, placed primary blame for the disaster on Transocean, Halliburton, and Weatherford.  Their conclusions, transferring blame to others rather than identifying the true causes, called the entire report into question.

Yesterday, during the meeting, the Academy committee criticized the report pointing out that BP drew their conclusions without interviews of all involved or even inspecting the rig, which is still on the bottom, as well as the lack of available evidence.  Najmedin Meshkati, a professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, wondered why BP didn’t investigate organizational issues and rig scheduling, which could have caused worker fatigue, contributing to the confusion prior to the well blowout.  In criticizing the BP report, Meshkati said,  

“How could you call this great work accident investigation … and not addressing human performance issues and organizational issues and decision-making issues?”

Under questioning, about BP ignoring the confusion and possible distraction of the crew with other activities, Bly said that, 

“It wasn’t intended to be anything that it isn’t.  It was a good contribution and a good foundation for further work for BP itself and others.” 

That’s not exactly what he said about the internal report, though.  They unequivocally determined that the cement in the annulus, the cement in the shoe track, and the float equipment all failed.  They also concluded that the casing design and the fact they didn’t fully circulate the well played no role in the blowout.   While saying that new data may affect their conclusions, it was interesting that the causes they point to remain in the well, never to be recovered. 

Thomas Roth, of Halliburton, also questioned BP’s conclusions that the cement failed and that the casing design didn’t was not a contributing factor, saying,

“BP’s well design and operational decisions compromised well integrity,” said Roth. “BP proceeded with well operations without establishing well integrity. In the end, BP followed a decision tree that ignored multiple red flags.”

When asked why Halliburton didn’t order a halt to the operations if BP’s actions were unsafe, Roth backpeddled, saying,  “We didn’t see it to be an unsafe operation as it was being executed.” 

This panel, stocked with engineers and scientists, is much more likely to come up with meaningful conclusions about the causes of the BP well blowout, as opposed to the President’s commission, which is staffed with academians, environmentalists, and politicians.  As I am watching this morning’s hearings of the President’s Commission in its third session, it is becoming even more clear as, so far, testimony focused on booming and skimming and flow rate, with little time spent by witness Doug Suttles on the subsea response or causes.  As opposed to the National Academy Engineering panel, the President’s panel continues to focus on investigating what happened environmentally after the blowout as opposed to seeking out the actual causes of the blowout.

The Academy panel is expected to issue a preliminary report about its findings on October 31, the day before the deepwater moratorium will be lifted.  Clearly, this will not be soon enough to affect operating policy; hopefully, since this disaster occurred, operators who resume work will make fundamental changes to operating and safety practices to lower the risk of another blowout.  My big concerns remain about fundamental design flaws in subsea BOPs and the level of training of rig personnel in kick recognition and early-sign well control.  These must be addressed to help prevent release of oil into the environment and possible loss of life.  Subsea containment procedures must also be developed in the event that well control is lost.

We’re still a long way from being ready to safely operate in the deepwater, even though we will shortly resume operations.  Until new procedures and equipment are ready, it is  incumbent upon deepwater operators and their contractors to minimize risk through diligent operations and strict adherence to best practices.


  1. Anonymous says

    Just to pick at your pickings…..you said, “They unequivocally determined that the cement in the annulus, the cement in the shoe track, and the float equipment all failed.”
    The BP report concludes:
    “1. The annulus cement barrier did not isolate the hydrocarbons.”
    “2. The shoe track barriers did not isolate the hydrocarbons.”
    They offer a hypothesis (i.e. BP team concluded ) that the cause was cement failure. As I read it they offer this reason but are open to differnt conclusions if and when additional data become available.
    I have read the entire report (BTW,I am a registered P.E. and have worked as an engineer in the offshore O&G business for 30 years). What I have learned is that disasters like Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, BP’s GOM blowout, et al aren’t simple to disect and attritube blame and blame does nothing to improve our safety.
    What does help is understanding how we got to where we got and I think that the BP report is a good start. There were several players involved that, on hindsight, could have done more.

  2. says

    I agree with everything you said up to “the BP report is a good start”. BP cynically pushed blame to everyone else, dismissing casing design and circulation (for which Shell criticized them) which is all on them. They also blame the blowout on things that can never be recovered, therefore not proven or disproven. Their selective memory and cherry picking of data degrades confidence in their other conclusions. It takes away from the fact finding rather than adding.

  3. H2BAnon says

    1. Shell lives in a glass house. Read Appendix O of the BP report. They have used the same well design in MC.
    2. Just because “things that can never be recovered, therefore not proven or disproven” does not in it of itself make it wrong or false, or do you think it does?
    3. “Their selective memory and cherry picking of data degrades confidence in their other conclusions.” I assume from this statement that you have knowledge or information which they deliberately excluded that you believe played a significant role in the disaster, do you? Or is that just your opinion?
    I think you take some very cheap shots and that detracts from what otherwise is some very good insight.

  4. says

    Cheap shots? You’re hiding behind multiple anonymous IDs, claiming, unsubstantiated, to be qualified, while calling my qualifications, all public, into question.
    I’m not exonerating anyone in this catastrophe. There is plenty of blame to go around, and all the major players here are culpable, INCLUDING BP. You seem to be a BP apologist, which calls your own objectivity into question, and you have failed to point out any instance where I’m actually wrong in my conclusions. I feel no need to defend my 30 plus year career to anyone, especially those taking potshots anonymously from the sidelines. If you are who you say you are, fine. I respect that. If you want to have a constructive discussion, that goes both ways.

  5. WindorSolarPlease says

    Thank you for taking the time for the information, it is appreciated.
    I totally agree that, We’re still a long way from being ready to safely operate in the deepwater. IT WAS AND HAS BEEN PROVEN.
    The blame game has started.
    They won’t be able to get/find enough evidence.
    This was BP rig they are responsible what happens on it.
    BP has the right to prove that others were involved in this and if it is proven then they should be reimbursed.
    I do believe there are others. Good luck proving this.
    In the mean time, since it was BP rig.
    PAY UP BP.. DO WHAT IS RIGHT.. clean this up correctly.
    Oil was poured out onto the gulf
    People died, sick, lost business, marine life killed, seafood contaminated, and so on.
    Toxins were spread and probably still are..STOP THIS
    Now is it true that super micro bugs put in the waters..STOP THIS
    Please Test.. Test.. and over Test.. Government Officials
    Gulf = Oil Toxic Experimental Disaster
    Funny what Greed..Power can do
    Causes – Havoc and Destroys
    I believe we have a problem that can hurt us all
    Everyone needs to stop fooling around, covering it up, and lying.
    BP will probably get insurance money
    Money from other corporations.
    Making more money on other rigs
    Gulf will probably still be a disaster
    and who knows how many more people this will effect in some way.
    This is a Disaster on the Horizon in so many ways.

  6. H2BAnon says

    I thought I was making some constructive criticism. I can see where you may have seen some teeth in what I said but I wasn’t trying to bite. I certainly know enough to do that if I wanted to be that infintile.
    I still make a living working as a consultant for the major oil companies and I do prefer to comment anonymously, which you generously allow.
    I have read your “Be Nice or Go Home” and fully agree with these principles. I also thought that my comments fell within your guidelines.
    In one of my posts I did want to make a clear distinction that I am trained and work as an engineer and that you aren’t. That is a distinction that makes a difference in the way we see problems and solutions.
    WRT your comment, “You’re hiding behind multiple anonymous IDs, claiming, unsubstantiated, to be qualified, while calling my qualifications, all public, into question”.
    If it helps you determine that what I have written is more valid or carries some additional weight than I have no issue with providing you my CV. Publish your email address and I will send it to you (person to person) so that you can reassure yourself that I do know what I am talking about and have the experience that I put forth on your Blog.
    You are what you are. I don’t have any issue with your credentials. But you are not an engineer.
    Finially, I think we have much more in common that what may appear by my posts but I do disagree with the passion/intensity with which you go after BP (no I am not working for BP nor do I appologize for them). I think we have whipped all the blood we can get out of the BP turnip and would like to see you and others begin to focus on the others, specifically Transocean, but including Haliburton. My reasons are that we get way too focused on BP when many of the issues needing attention are specific to Transocean & Haliburton equipment and operations.
    You as a CEO and major investor of an oil company certaily know the limits of what you can do to control each and every aspect of your contractor and thay you rely on them for their expertice to drill your wells.
    Kind Regards.

  7. says

    What you consider “constructive criticism” I considered insulting, especially with the “cheap shot” rhetoric. You seem to believe that, since you have an specific engineering degree, you somehow have more right to an opinion than others. I’ve worked with dozens of engineers from several disciplines, many of whom are very good. However, I have found, from decades of experience, that two disciplines generally don’t make good managers; one is accounting and the other is engineering. I believe that is the case because both disciplines are too narrow and people drawn to those disciplines are narrow, black and white thinkers. Most management is gray, and engineers tend to make more wrong judgments than those from other disciplines. They also tend to think that people from other disciplines are either stupid or unqualified to have an opinion, as you obviously do. I’ve known some engineers who make good managers. I’ve also known some who couldn’t run a donut shop with a full time management consultant. Generally, engineers I’ve had in management positions have needed more supervision than those from other disciplines. Conversely, the best offshore operations manager I’ve ever worked with was actually a degreed petroleum landman. The best gathering and processing operations executive I’ve ever worked with didn’t even have a degree. You think qualifications are based on the paper hanging on your wall. I think qualifications come from years of experience and an understanding of many disciplines, as well as from an inherent ability to lead. You can’t teach any of that in engineering school.
    As an operator, who’s operated hundreds and hundreds of wells, both onshore and offshore, I have never been in a situation where I have been able to blame a contractor for something that went wrong on one of my wells, especially when someone was injured or killed. If a drilling contractor pulls the derrick in on the rig crew, killing several, the one who gets sued and has ultimate responsibility is the operator. The operator, even though the company man is not even on the floor, is the responsible party. Period. That is the case here. The negative test failed. Everyone knew it, but ignored that fact, including TWO BP company men. The fact that no BP employees were killed says that none were on, or even near the floor when the well came to see them. Does Transocean have culpability? Absolutely. However, BP is operator. It’s their well, their design, their management, their problem.

  8. H2BAnon says

    Ok. Thanks for the comments. Sorry if what I have commented has insulted or upset you. That wasn’t my intention. I have an opinion and it comes from my training and expertise and you have another resulting from your life experiences. So be it. Such is life.
    You couldn’t be more correct and I agree that some people that are engineers are incapable of making decisions or are poor decision makers. There is also the counter, as I have also seen and worked for engineers that have far exceeded the abilities of others without such training. In all aspects including business and financial. As in all life there is no one path for competence.
    It goes without saying that a degree is only a start and not an end. I have also known very talented degreed and non-degreed people. I can see that you are successful and I congratulate you for your success.
    I wasn’t on that rig. Many people seem to think that the negative pressure test (and other decisions) should have been a no brainer for even the most novice driller/engineer/tool pusher/company man/ to have discerned the problem. Maybe so, its always possible.
    I have made many mistakes in my career and I am pleased that there are people like you out there to point them out to me. I have learned more from my mistakes than I did in school and from my successes. It has made me a better engineer.
    BWT, I have to use my email address to log in and post, even if I do it anonymously. I would guess that If you still want some proof of my skill set you could just email the request to me and I would be happy to oblige.
    Without malice, kind regards.

  9. Mike says

    Mr. Cavnar, clearly this is your blog and no one is allowed to disagree with your assesements of the Macondo blowout on your blog without getting railed on for their lack of published experience and qualifications. It seems if we don’t submit a resume before we disagree we are cowardly? I did not find Mr. H2B comments to be a “cheap shot from the sideline” and do not think he questioned your 30 years of experience. Now, after you have essentially told him engineers are worthless, he is probably real insulted himself. Just because he disagreed with you. He paid you a compliment also; I guess you missed that.
    You have a lot of experience, I have a lot of experience (55 years, from ditches to well control to operator of many wells also), he is an engineer and has a lot of experience, so what? Everybody specualating about the causes of this BP blowout is essentially guessing from the sideline and opinions are like backsides, we all got ‘em.
    You have done a service to this country by trying to explain to an othewise uneducated public the complexity of exploration in deep water and blowout control. That is a good thing, thank you. On the the other hand your passion for blaming BP and holding BP entirely responsible for all of it has also created anger and mistrust in Americans toward an industry that, before this BP disaster, really did not care where their crude oil came from as long as it was cheap and came without guilt. You can blame BP for all of that. I blame streaming videos and a television media who needed to sensationalize all this to the point of mass hysteria for the sake of an anti-oil, anti-corporate agenda.
    The truth of it is that we have been having blowouts and losing good men to them for 120 years. We have learned from them and gotten safer, the number of well control incidents is 1/100th of what they were 20 years ago. We will learn from this blowout and we will get even smarter and safer.
    But whatever BP may or may not have done to cause the blowout I am perplexed beyond words how anyone could not admit that they’re response to containing it, to bringing it under control, to killing it, at that depth of water, under such public and governmental scrunity, is nothing short of amazing. Nobody, under the circumstances, could have done it much faster. You want them held accountable, clearly they are being accountable. The well is dead, there is 20 billion dollars in the cookie jar for people to claim and there are still 25,000 people out on the beach trying to clean it up.
    Please do not call me a BP shrill; I am not. I am a shrill of rational thought and a proponent of the amazing technology my industry is capable of, little else. I am not proud of any blowout, I have seen too many good men die, but I am proud of the incredible engineering it took to implement the response. I am just as passionate as you are so we have that to compliment each other for.
    You are correct, sir; it was BP hands on the rig floor that probably made some bad decisions. Nine times out of ten it is human error that causes these kind of things to happen (I learned that working for the best well control company in the world), not collective corporate error, not the lack of federal regulators with video cameras watching over every trip tank, but just dumb ‘ol human beings, tired and in a hurry, wanting to get home. That problem is as old as the oilfield itself.
    This was a horrible accident; it will take some more time to get it cleaned up and for those families to get to a better place with their grief. My heart aches for them. But it is time to stop the BP bashing. Experts like yourself who have the floor (I assume you still very much love and care about the oil and natural gas industry), executives of big oil corporations, industry organizations, even dumb roughnecks like myself, we need to be calming the American public and re-creating trust in what it is we do. America is going to need us to find and produce every drop of oil we can over the comming years.
    PS: Sorry Mr. H2B; often on big blowouts for big companies the first thing we would do when we got on location was go look at the well, make a plan, then run off all the engineers so we could implement that plan.

  10. Bob Cavnar says

    Thanks for the comment. However, you misinterpret my criticism of Anon’s comments. He didn’t actually disagree with me…he asserted that I was unqualified to have a opinion. In his last comment, he even asserted that he has “training and expertise”, while saying others had “life experiences”. He doesn’t even know what training others on this blog have had in our careers.
    In this blog, I have repeatedly maintained that there are many culpable parties in this disaster; however, I have also called BP to task for blaming others, rather than taking responsibility for the decisions as operator, and obfuscating critical information. It’s not about the money they put up for damages. It’s about getting to the true cause of the blowout so lives can be saved. Their internal report minimizes the company’s responsibility for critical decisions that led up to the incident; that’s likely not coincidental since they’re trying to minimize liability.
    The oil industry’s reputation is not tarnished because of my or others reporting…it’s tarnished from decades of bad actions and being on the wrong side of a number of critical safety and policy issues. You do know that the public hated the oil industry before the blowout, correct?
    BTW, loved your comment about running off the engineers to get a well under control. It hits the issue right on the head.

  11. Mike says

    Mr. Cavnar, I suppose what makes human interaction stimulating, and often frustrasting, it that we are all entitled to our opinions regardless of qualifications.
    One of the things that I am most proud of about my industry is that occassionally dumb ‘ol roughnecks like myself with no college degree, if they paid attention and learned from their mistakes, can find a way to be successful. That is the American way but my industry is one of few that I know that lets you in the front door without a degree, then opens all the doors wide. Like you I have my entire life learned the most from honorable men that simply worked hard and never quit. You see they’re “education” in the cracks and callouses of their hands. Having said that engineers will now, after this BP mess, play an even bigger role in our industry, especially offshore. We need them. And the government will insist on at least 11 on every rig. As I have written to you before, in 2006 some 33,000 new, graduate lawyers took the BAR exam in the U.S.; that same year 189 kids earned petroleum engineering degrees and 102 of those kids then took US. educations and went overseas to work in they’re own countries’ energy sectors. You want more redundancy on sub-sea BOP’s, me too. I want more kids in America to look to the oil and gas industry as a secure future for they’re careers and to be educated enough to keep those kicks down hole where they belong, not up in the stack. We’re all getting to be old farts, who’s bringing up the rear? Nobody.
    Yep, hating the oil and gas industry is as old as baseball. I have thought about it a lot, why and how to change it. The media exposure to this BP mess set us back years. Politicians bark at Americans that tax deductions from gross taxable income to drill, deep, multi-million dollar, risky wells is a subsidy instead of an incentive, that fracing 12,000 foot wells contaminates groundwater at 120 feet, that we kill and mame people, harm the environment with malice, all for the sake of a buck. Americans see billion dollar earnings reports but do not understand that the margins on capital expenses are less than 10% per annum and that offshore projects take ten of billions of dollars and ten or more years to develop; they are told by ignorant people that we manipulate the price of their gasoline and because they do not know better, believe it. No wonder they loathe us. America however does not want to hear good things about the oil and gas business, only the bad. It is easier to hate our guts that way. You know I am not wrong about that.
    My industry has done a lousy job of educating the public about the dangers and the risk, the complexity of what it is we have to do. Not one CEO of a major company had the huevos to step up to the public during this blowout because essentially they have all been guilty of the same mistakes BP made, they just got away with it. And not one of those companies could have killed that well or be cleaning the mess up any faster. You are mad at BP, I am mad at all of them.
    America wants to punnish my industry for this BP mess, to get even with us by increasing our taxes (we are already the highest taxed industry in this country at an effective rate of 48.7%), because Americans are afraid of what they do not understand and politicians feed on that like worms in wet dirt. Americans want an end to fossil fuels now, tomorrow. But there is no plan to eliminate 13,000,000 barrels a day of crude oil for gasoline and jet fuel in this country and there is a storm coming as to oil supply that will change society as we know it. America needs Americas oil; we need BP and all those folks with big bucks out there in deep water. America will even need my little scrawny 5 BOPD wells.
    If you want to be mad at BP, get it! But do what you can also to insure Americans that they need the oil and gas industry and “tarnishments” aside (name an industry from Goldman Sachs to American Airlines to Apple to Johnson and Johnson that has not “tarnished” themselves), we HAVE done a good job and we WILL do an even better job at supplying our country’s energy needs.
    Thank you for the venue. There is no Petroleum Club in my little town, only a pumper or two to whine to at the local Whataburger. It feels good to get this said to another oil man, even if we don’t often agree.
    Good luck with your book.

  12. 2laneIA says

    Recently I listened to a senior manager at a company that sells things to oil companies talk about BP facilities as being in trashy shape, maintenance-wise, compared to every other oil company.
    All the discussion about cement and pressures and so forth will be helpful to understanding the technical causes. But I believe that both the fact of the spill, and the highly dubious handling of the aftermath, are indicative of a company culture that prized making money at the expense of every other value that might matter. Company culture flows down from management, and if you want to stay at a company, you absorb it and make it your own.
    Reckless risk-taking followed by extraordinary consequences has been a theme of the last couple of years. The larger culture allows such actors to flourish, or not. We could learn something if we cared to look at the Wall Street meltdown and the BP spill in the context of the culture that encourages crazy risks and does not punish failure so long as it is really big.

  13. says

    Thanks for your comments. It seems, however, that you may not be who you claim to be. You quote pretty interesting statistics for a supposedly broken down roughneck. Goldman Sachs? 48.7% tax rate? (which I disagree with, BTW), number of petroleum engineering graduates? Not exactly the subjects talked about in any oilfileld bar i used to hang out in. You talk more like a lobbyist.
    No matter. Thanks for your input.

  14. offshore778 says

    I like ya Bob but I can’t resist. Not many “field hands” get quite so much airtime on Hardball, either.

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