Thursday, March 24, 2011

Detailed Forensic Report On BP Oil Spill Blowout Preventer

Mar 23: The Department of Interior (DOI), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which is examining the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill, announced that it will hold a seventh session of public hearings the week of April 4, 2011. The hearings, which will focus specifically on the forensic examination of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer (BOP), are scheduled to take place at the Holiday Inn Metairie at the New Orleans Airport. 
    BOEMRE and the Coast Guard have made the extensive, detailed forensic examination report available. The report was prepared by U.S. Det Norske Veritas (DNV) Columbus, the contractor that performed the examination and has now been released to the parties-in-interest in the investigation, members of the Technical Working Group who witnessed the examination at NASA's Michoud Facility in New Orleans, and the public. 
    The forensic examination is one aspect of the much broader comprehensive investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, loss of life, casualty loss, and the subsequent oil spill. Over the course of its investigation, the JIT heard testimony from more than 70 witnesses and examined a broad range of material including photographs, video, data, documents, and physical evidence. Although the full investigation report is not expected to be released until sometime this summer, a report on the BOP and other matters is scheduled to be issued within the next month.
    In brief summary the report recounts that, "On the evening of April 20, 2010 control of the well was lost, allowing hydrocarbons to enter the drilling riser and reach the Deepwater Horizon, resulting in explosions and subsequent fires. The fires continued to burn for approximately 36 hours. The rig sank on April 22, 2010. From shortly before the explosions until May 20, 2010, when all ROV intervention ceased, several efforts were made to seal the well. The well was permanently plugged with cement and "killed" on September 19, 2010."
    One of the conclusions regarding the BOP which is designed to shear and seal the drill pipe should an accident occur, is that, "The drill pipe within the BOP stack was under a compressive load that elastically buckled the pipe between the Upper VBRs and the Upper Annular. This elastic buckling condition forced the drill pipe toward the sidewall of the wellbore and outside of the cutting blade surfaces of the BSRs. When the ram blocks closed they were not able to overcome the
buckling forces holding the drill pipe against the sidewall of the wellbore. The blocks could not reposition the entire circumference of the drill pipe to within the shearing surfaces of the BSRs."
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) the current top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and whose Subcommittee in the last Congressional session conducted many hearings on the BP oils spill, issued a statement on the release of the report. The Markey release summarizes the conclusion of the study saying, ". . .multiple mechanisms deployed as designed inside of the BOP, including the so-called 'blind shear rams.' However, since the drilling pipe inside of the large, multi-ton safety device had buckled, the cutting devices hit the pipe off-center, failing to fully sever the drilling pipe and allowing oil to continue to flow."
    Rep. Markey said, "A blowout preventer is like a car's airbag. It can't prevent the car accident, but it is supposed to deploy and prevent fatalities. This report calls into question whether oil industry claims about the effectiveness of blowout preventers are just a bunch of hot air. It isn't clear from this report that blowout preventers can actually prevent major blowouts once they've started. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the blind shear rams did not seem to work. The spill commission's report said that the problems within the oil industry that led to the BP spill were systemic, and not unique to this disaster. Now we know there could also be systemic design issues with blowout preventers that could cause them to be ineffective, even when deployed as intended. We need a full review of every single blowout preventer used in United States waters, and revisit the designs of these supposed machines of last resort."
    Access a release from BOEMRE (click here). Access the two volume report is available online (click here); and (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey and link to the full exchange of correspondence between Markey and DOI on the investigation into the BOP (click here).
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