Thursday, January 06, 2011

BP Oil Spill Commission Cites "A Failure Of Management"

Jan 6: The National Oil Spill Commission, established by President Obama on May 22, 2010, to investigate the root causes of the spill and provide recommendations on how to prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that result from offshore drilling. The Commission, following extensive hearings and investigation, but without subpoena power, has announced that it will release its final report on January 11, 2011. The Commission also announced that on January 12, it will host a New Orleans forum for interested members of the public to learn about and discuss the Commission's final report and recommendations for avoiding another spill disaster.
    The report will contain the Commission's complete examination of impacts and considerations regarding the BP's Macondo well blowout, including chapters on a history of events before and after the blowout, the need for both improved corporate and government safety rules and response practices, challenges for restoring and protecting the Gulf's environment, considerations regarding the Arctic and drilling "frontiers," and the Commission's official recommendations to President Obama, the Congress and industry for avoiding a similar episode. There will also be a separate Chief Counsel's report on the blowout. Today the Commission released in advance the chapter a chapter from the upcoming full report that contains the key findings from its extensive investigation into the causes of the blowout of BP's Macondo well.

    On April 20, 2010, the disaster killed 11 workers, seriously injured many others, and spewed uncontrolled over four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months, creating the largest oil spill ever in American waters. Among the findings from the chapter the Commission indicates, "The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening. But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure -- a failure of management. Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them."

    Commission Co-Chair William K. Reilly commented on the Commission's findings saying, "My observation of the oil industry indicates that there are several companies with exemplary safety and environment records. So a key question posed from the outset by this tragedy is, do we have a single company, BP, that blundered with fatal consequences, or a more pervasive problem of a complacent industry? Given the documented failings of both Transocean and Halliburton, both of which serve the off shore industry in virtually every ocean, I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem."

    Co-Chair Bob Graham said, "The Commission's findings only compound our sense of tragedy because we know now that the blowout of the Macondo well was avoidable. This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first. And it likely would not have happened if the responsible governmental regulators had the capacity and will to demand world class safety standards. There is nothing that we can do to bring back the lives of the men we lost that day. But we can honor their memory by pledging to take steps necessary to avoid repeating the fatal practices of the past."

    Other key findings from the chapter include: ". . .the Macondo blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent." Also, "The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur."

    The chapter reports that these failures were preventable. Errors and misjudgments by at least three companies -- BP, Halliburton and Transocean -- contributed to the disaster. Federal regulations did not address many of the key issues -- for example, no regulation specified basic procedures for the negative pressure test used to evaluate the cement seal or minimum criteria for test success. The chapter also notes, "Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money)."

    Access a release from the Commission (click here). Access the complete 48-page chapter (click here). Access the announcement on the New Orleans meeting (click here). Access the Commission website for complete background and further information (click here).