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What Happened?

Gulf Gusher symbolThe New Orleans Times-Picayune is still a functioning newspaper with actual reporters who attend hearings and ask experts.

David Hammer is “live blogging” the Rig Explosion hearing being held by the US Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service in New Orleans. There are actual witnesses to what happened who are sworn in and testify to what they saw and did when the well blew up.

Also of interest is the David Hammer and Mark Schleifstein piece relying on the information they had pieced together:

Powerful puffs of natural gas, called kicks, are a normal occurrence in many deep-ocean drilling operations.

But one intense kick of natural gas caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to be shut down because of the fear of an explosion just weeks before a similar release succeeded in destroying and sinking the platform and sent millions of gallons of oil on a collision course with Louisiana and the rest of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Shortly before the accident, engineers argued about whether to remove heavy drilling mud that acted as a last defense against such catastrophic kicks, and the decision to replace the mud with much lighter seawater won out.

Hammer and Schleifstein consulted with Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineering professor, who led the investigation into the New Orleans levee collapse, and is a trusted voice in the Crescent City. Bea is conducting his own investigation into the incident.

At the time of the blow-out they were pumping out the drilling mud and getting ready to insert the concrete plug to close down the well. This was the endgame for the Deepwater Horizon. They were finishing up and preparing to leave.

The well had given them fair warning of the possibility of a blow-out, but they decided to replace the mud with seawater to speed their exit. The mud is toxic and expensive, so it is pumped out of the well. This is normally one of the last things that occurs before the drilling rig disconnects.