Could the Gulf oil spill have been avoided if BP wasn't in such a hurry to put the well into production? One Deepwater Horizon worker thinks so.
Weeks before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and touched off the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, workers identified a leak on a critical part of the blowout preventer (BOP), a device designed to cut and seal the well in the event of an emergency.
But instead of addressing the problem -- a process that would involve stopping production on the well and pulling the BOP up for repairs at a cost of millions of dollars -- BP, Transocean, or both decided to move forward with production on the well, in spite of the dangers of doing so. And then the device failed when it was needed most.
Deepwater Horizon worker Tyrone Benton told BBC News that he and his colleagues identified a leak in one of two control pods, the brains of the blowout preventer, weeks before the accident and after reporting of the problem up the chain to BP and Transocean the decision was made to shut down the faulty control pod and work from another one. The BOP is equipped with two control pods.
Mr. Benton said his supervisor e-mailed BP and Transocean about the leaks in the control pod when they were first discovered, but he wasn't certain if the faulty pod was turned back on before the explosion on April 20.
"We saw a leak on the pod, so by seeing the leak we informed the company men [from BP]," Benton told BBC, on a program that will air in the U.K. tonight.
"They have a control room where they could turn off that pod and turn on the other one, so that they don't have to stop production."
The blowout preventer is designed as the last line of defense against a major oil spill event. In the event of a major emergency such as a fire or hurricane, giant hydraulic rams in the BOP will be actuated to crimp and cut the main well pipe, freeing the drill rig from the well and preventing oil from gushing out of the freshly tapped oil deposit.
But several problems in the failed piece of equipment, manufactured by Cameron International in 2001, have been uncovered since the accident, including design problems, modifications and a dead battery.
"Too many jobs were being done at one time. It should have just really slowed down and just took one job at a time, to make sure everything was done the way it should have been," said Benton, who is suing both BP and Transocean for negligence.
Evidence of negligence mounts
Benton is not the only one who thinks BP was negligent. Anadarko Petroleum, which owned a one-quarter stake in the Macondo Prospect, says BP should be financially liable for the entire cost of the spill.
“BP’s behavior and actions likely represent gross negligence or willful misconduct and thus affect the obligations of the parties under the operating agreement,” Anadarko CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement.
BP says that Transocean is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the blowout preventer and Transocean said they tested the BOP just three days before the explosion.
If what Benton is saying is true and BP was in fact notified of a problem with the blowout preventer weeks before the accident and then proceeded to move forward with the project in the face of great danger, they could be complicit in gross negligence of the most irresponsible--and irreversible--kind.
Photo credits: U.S. Coast Guard