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Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts
Attorney • (256) 543-0400

Ignoring the ABCs of Safety: The BP Disaster

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It didn’t have to happen.

The BP oil spill, as early as the end of May, was recognized as the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. The 87-day spill gushed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before BP capped the Deepwater Horizon wellhead July 15.

The companies in charge of the BP oil rig, according to the information coming out in recent hearings, failed to comply with fundamental ABCs of safety and accident prevention. British Petroleum overlooked serious red flags and warnings of the disaster that was about to happen. And charges and countercharges fly. BP on Sept. 8 published a 234-page report on the causes of the explosion, and while saying that its own managers and contractors made mistakes, also blamed many of the errors on Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon, and on service providers such as Halliburton Co.

Geneva-based Transocean fired back that BP’s report concealed the well’s “fatally flawed” design, which “set the stage” for the explosion. The driller cited a series of cost- savings decisions by BP that added risk.

At any rate, BP and possibly other companies obviously were in too big a hurry to properly follow the right procedures and protect lives, property and the environment.That is the gist of the message that is coming out in the recent hearings:

This disaster did not have to happen.

Four million barrels is a mass of oil that our imaginations cannot come close to visualizing. The human toll is easier to comprehend. The explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17 others; another 98 people survived without serious physical injury.

Also consider that more than 400 species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals are threatened by the oil, including the brown pelican, Louisiana’s state bird.

And the financial losses in property, livelihoods, and tourism will be in the billions. From shrimpers to restaurateurs to hotel owners to owners of condominiums on the Alabama coast, the number of victims of this catastrophe is vast.

This opening remark by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, at a hearing June 17 described the tragic lack of caution eloquently:

“We have learned that time and again BP officials had warning signs that this was — as one employee put it — ‘a nightmare well.’ They made choices that set safety aside in exchange for cost cutting and time saving decisions.”

Some examples Stupak cited:

BP officials disregarded questionable results from pressure tests after cementing in the well.

BP selected the riskier of two options for their well design.

BP was warned by their cement contractor Halliburton that the well could have a “SEVERE gas flow problem” if BP did not use casing equipment Halliburton recommended. A BP official involved in the decision explained: “it will take 10 hours to install them. … I do not like this.”

BP chose not to fully circulate the mud in the well from the bottom to the top, which was an industry recommended best practice that would have allowed them to test for gas in the mud.

BP chose not to use a “lockdown sleeve” that would have provided extra protection against a blowout.

Regarding BP CEO Tony Hayward’s infamous remark that he wanted his life back after dealing with the spill’s repercussions, Congressman Stupak said:

“For the Americans who live and work on the Gulf Coast, it may take years to get their lives back. For the families of those who were killed or injured, they may never get their lives back But we in America are left with the terrible consequences of BP’s reckless disregard for safety.”