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The Big BOPper That Couldn’t — Why Now?
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The Big BOPper That Couldn’t

Gulf Gusher symbolMcClatchy is reporting that there wasn’t total confidence in the system: Report adds to doubts about key oil rig safety equipment. This covers two presentations, one in 2003 and a second in 2008 by officials with Transocean, [and BP America in the second report], that question the ability of the current blow-out preventers [BOPs] to actually work.

Senator Maria Cantwell [D-Washington] chairs the Senate Commerce Committee’s oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, and she wants to know what’s going on. The industry keeps telling the world that there’s no problem while insiders are writing reports saying the system may not work.

A problem that was highlighted in the 2008 paper was that the stronger pipes being introduced for deep water drilling might make it impossible for the BOPs to work as designed. A further complication is that the plans submitted to companies like Cameron and Hydril who manufacture the BOPs may not match what is actually built. Factory testing is worthless if the materials involved in the installation are different.

I located a picture of the BOP on the well. The discussion on the page includes several people with deep water drilling experience who speculate on what went wrong.

Update: From Kryten in comments: Deepwater Horizon: A Firsthand Account.


1 Kryten42 { 05.06.10 at 12:45 pm }

According to this survivors report, it was a freak accident and there was nothing wrong with the rig. Though he did mention that there could have been negligence involved.

Deepwater Horizon: A Firsthand Account

Whether or not it’s a true and accurate statement, I have no way of telling. It will be interesting to hear the final report on the incident.

2 Bryan { 05.06.10 at 2:57 pm }

Kryten, I assumed it was a gas blowout, but that isn’t supposed to happen. There are supposed to be systems in place to stop it from happening, and sensors to alert people to the problem building before it gets out of hand.

In general, people can’t react fast enough to stop it, so the equipment is automated. If the BOP had worked, oil wouldn’t be pouring into the Gulf, so that was an obvious failure. I think they may find that the BOP did, in fact, activate, but was unable to do its job.

Reading the story just reinforces my opinion that the entire enterprise is a good deal more dangerous than people have been led to believe. However much oil was down there, it wasn’t worth the lives of 11 men and the death of the Gulf.

3 Kryten42 { 05.06.10 at 9:45 pm }

Yeah, that’s for sure. I know all about risk and engineering to minimise it as much as possible. The machines we designed in the 80’s were damned dangerous, and we designed them because the ones available had poor safety records. We had systems that used very high energy plasma, and others with pumps and water pressures up to 70k psi. There were a lot of things that could go wrong, and we designed them to cover every conceivable possible or improbably situation. In the 10 years after, our machines never caused a single accident and had the highest safety record in industry and won several international awards for excellence and safety. They cost a lot more than the competition, so we made them better and they had a much better ROI, so they were very attractive. We couldn’t build enough to satisfy demand. We went from 36 factory workers to over 120 in a year. When I hear all these moronic bean counters saying things like ‘we have to keep the costs to the minimum’ or ‘people won’t pay if it’s expensive’ etc, I want to shoot them. We proved that was a load of BS. The real problem is, finding people who can design & build a high-performance, high-safety system and make it attractive (low ROI works) to the customer. That takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity, and a great deal of imagination and experience. And the cheap crooks running the companies will not pay to get these kinds of people, they want all the money for themselves. And the end result is ‘Deepwater Horizon’ and I am sure there are many others waiting to happen. You cut corners, everyone pays eventually.

4 Bryan { 05.06.10 at 11:04 pm }

The cost of this accident would have bought a hell of a lot of over-sized safety gear, but I’m wondering what changes were made from the initial plans when they actually started to drill the well.

Did they use different pipe than was originally specified? Did they drill deeper than planned? Was the equipment rated for the pressures that were encountered?

The Gulf has a lot of natural gas, hell, we have a lot of natural gas wells on the Panhandle. It must be part of the geology of the area. The gas isn’t a big secret, and should be expected when you drill around here. They had been dealing with it, so what changed? A lot of people have been pointing fingers at Halliburton and their cementing job, but what if they weren’t given the proper specifications for the well. I would think that they would want the cement to project into the oil area so there would be a “lip” to deal with the pressure. If they only poured into the pipe, wouldn’t the “plug move after it was cured?

There are too many unfilled spaces on the forms, not enough solid information on what the companies involved were told by those that hired them.

I would assume that BP will be suing all of the contracted companies involved with the well to try to recover as much as possible to cover it’s losses.