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BP’s ‘Nightmare’ Well: Internal Documents Uncover Negligence

Brandon Keim
Wired Science
June 15, 2010

In an e-mail written six days before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a BP engineer called the well a “nightmare.” The e-mail was released Monday by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and it’s one of many company documents describing the risky, cost-cutting decisions that preceded the disaster.

“This has been a nightmare well which has everyone all over the place,” wrote BP engineer Brian Morel to a colleague. Morel wanted the company to use a “liner,” or sheath around the well that would keep gas from surging up the pipes and possibly exploding.

One such surge caused the Deepwater Horizon to temporarily shut down in early April, but BP opted against installing the liner, which would have cost an extra $7 million to $10 million.

“BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure,” wrote committee chairs Henry Waxman (D-California) and Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) in a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward. “In several instances, these decisions appear to violate industry guidelines and were made despite warnings from BP’s own personnel and its contractors. In effect, it appears that BP repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time.”

In addition to BP’s decision not to use a liner, the committee’s letter describes four other examples of risky negligence.

Halliburton, the company responsible for cement in the well shaft, recommended using 21 “centralizers” to position the metal tube that ran down the center of the well. An off-center tube would cause cement to harden at different rates, producing gaps and channels that could weaken its structure and increase chances of failure. BP used just six centralizers.

A mid-April review of the well said “it is unlikely to be a successful cement job,” but BP declined to run a “cement bond log,” a day-long evaluation of the cement’s integrity. A crew that arrived expecting to perform the evaluation was sent home.

BP also failed to circulate muds that filled the well as it was drilled. That allowed mud that stayed on the bottom to absorb gas and debris, further weakening cement at the well’s base. BP then decided not to use a “lockdown sleeve,” which would have secured the top of the well, where it emerged from the seafloor.

The full list of documents is located on the House committee’s website. BP’s Hayward testifies before the panel Thursday.

“We ask that you come prepared,” wrote Waxman and Stupak.

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