Offshore InjuryBlog

Under Pressure: New Findings On The Deepwater Horizon Explosion

On April 21, 2010, the Gulf of Mexico was made victim to an incident which has left it unchanged since. The Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill has left permanent marks on the ecosystem, lifestyle and economy of the gulf coast. Four years after what has been deemed as the worst offshore oil incident in the country, results of federal investigations have revealed a new light on the most important question of the matter: why the blow out was not halted by a key safety device. The Chemical Safety Board has released a two-volume draft report investigating the facilitation of the incident and specifically, why BP's built in safety precautions failed to serve their purpose in preventing the blow-out and oil spill.

The conclusion was not surprising. As one of the largest oil companies in the country, BP had not failed to place several fail-safes when installing the well and rig. However, in this tragic incident, every safety device failed, due to an unexpected burst in pressure, as determined by the CSB.

The Snowball Effect: A Small Device with a Big Responsibility

As reported by the CSB, the burst occurred the night before the explosion. The long drill pipe running down to the bottom of the ocean from the rig could not withstand the burst in pressure, buckling under the weight and curved in a way that did not allow for the final fail-safe mechanism to serve its purpose. The blowout preventer, which would usually cut the pipe and seal the well, could not reach the pipe because of the bend caused by the pressure.

The Chemical Safety Board has investigated many oil and chemical incidents for the root cause, uncovering underlining factors that can be credited with some of the most damaging accidents in the country. However, the CSB reported that pressure, as that which is credited with causing the blowout, has never been considered seriously as a danger in the oil industry by either the companies or the industry regulators.

This information is especially disturbing in light of the fact that the Deepwater Horizon rig was not fundamentally different than any typical offshore rig. That means that most, if not all oil rigs are built with the same, potentially insufficient safety mechanisms, leaving them vulnerable to the same pressure bursts. If the Chemical Safety Board is correct, blowout preventers, which have thus far been relied upon as the ultimate safety measure, seem helpless in the midst of an unforeseen burst in pressure on a drilling pipe. The only conclusion then remains what no one would be willing to admit: Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf oil spill could potentially not be isolated incidents.

One burst in pressure caused a blowout that led to an explosion killing 11 offshore workers and allowed oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico for almost 90 days. This escalated incident has caused damage that is still proving resilient to the tireless attempts to clean up the Gulf.

Chain Reaction: Pointing Fingers, Shifting Blame & Staying Quiet

Millions of residents on the coast near the affected areas are calling for justice, specifically for the heads of those who could have known about this shortfall and potentially prevented by implementing stronger safety devices. While the instigating cause may have been determined, BP's hands are far from clean. As investigations continue, authorities repeatedly discover attempts to evade federal questions, hide evidence and mislead the court. While the blowout preventer could not cut the pipe and seal the well because of the bend in the pipe, there is also evidence suggesting that, had the pipe been straight, the BOP would have still failed. Allegations of miswiring and two battery failures suggest that the blowout was imminent.

The battle rages on in federal court as investigators and authorities attempt to gauge how much BP owes in environmental fines. BP has already allocated more than $47 billion for the cost of the oil spill and, pending judgment from the federal judge in New Orleans, could be paying another $18 billion in environmental fines. BP and Transocean, two separate companies that are equally involved in the battle, have turned against each other. A BP spokesperson pointed the finger to Transocean, which owned the supposedly faulty blowout preventer, and said that the company was ultimately responsible for the maintenance of the device. On the other hand, Transocean refused to accept responsibility for the device's performance and especially rejected the CBS report regarding its safety culture and a claim that the BOP was miswired prior to its installation.

A cover-up of evidence and reluctance to be transparent has plagued the investigation from the beginning and many think it has gone this long because the companies involved will not turn over data needed to make conclusive decisions. Federal investigators continue to seek the answers in order to finalize the matter, collect the money and begin truly focusing on the reconstruction of the communities destroyed by the accident.

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