Shocking allegations against BP

At least one worker who was on the oil rig at the time of the explosion on April 20, and who handled company records for BP, said the rig had been drilling deeper than 22,000 feet, even though the company’s federal permit allowed it to go only 18,000 to 20,000 feet deep, the lawyers said.

That’s from a front-page story in the NY Times Tuesday with the mild headline, “On Defensive, BP Readies Dome to Contain Spill.”

The paper of record chose to publish this serious allegation of permit violation, but oddly didn’t lead with them.  And while reporting “BP strongly denied the claim that it was drilling deeper than was allowed,” the paper then drops this bombshell:

Another worker familiar with the rig told the lawyers that the company had chosen not to install a deep-water valve that would have been placed about 200 feet under the sea floor. Much like blowout preventers, devices that are meant to seal leaks, this valve could have served as a cutoff of last resort in explosions, the lawyers said.

“The company took their chances in not having the valve so they could save money,” said Mike Papantonio, one of the lawyers representing the shrimpers and fishermen.

Mr. Gowers [a BP spokesman] declined to comment on that claim except to say that the investigation was continuing and that it was too early to speculate.

That’s the first time I’ve seen reporting on this below-sea-floor valve option.

This isn’t the acoustic cut-off that the WSJ has been reporting on, which the company also didn’t kick in $500,000 for:


BP has a lot of explaining to do.

And maybe BP’s CEO — who previously was “Chief Executive of exploration and production” at the company — finally has the answer to his inane question:

23 Responses to Shocking allegations against BP

  1. lizardo says:

    Joe, I’m sure you meant to say “below sea bed valve option” rather than sea level.

    [JR: Yes. Thanks. It’s late here!]

    And I think this going 2-4,000 feet deeper is also significant, and might be more so.

    Because it seems to me that if something mechanical failed it’s also possible that the backup signal would also not work. On the other hand, maybe it would, and not having it seems unbelievable.

  2. Prokaryote says:

    Schwarzenegger Ends Support For California Oil Drilling

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday withdrew his support of a plan to expand oil drilling off the California coast, citing the massive oil spill that resulted from a drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

    The announcement assures that no new drilling will take place off the state’s coastline in the foreseeable future because Schwarzenegger would have to include the drilling proposal in his May revision of the state budget.

    Speaking at a news conference near Sacramento, the governor said television images of the oil spill in the Gulf have changed his mind about the safety of ocean-based oil platforms.

    “You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'” Schwarzenegger said.

  3. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    As Doug Benson has pointed out on another thread, the blow-out preventor [BOP] consists of shears to cut the pipe and seal the upflow of oil. Yet the ‘tool-joints’ at the end of each length of the pipe cannot be cut by the BOP, and make up about 2% of each pipe’s length.

    Thus the standard equipment for US offshore rigs appears to offer a one-in-fifty chance of failing to control a blowout, and the delivery of a new well’s-worth of oil into the Gulf Stream was a statistical certainty, given time.

    Given that a second set of shear a few feet away would avoid this problem, does it need repeating that “Self-regulation is an oxymoron” ?



  4. Wonhyo says:

    Honestly, are we really shocked that a profit driven operation under weak regulation and enforcement cut corners in safety to make another buck? We need to stop being so naive.

  5. Wonhyo says:

    Regarding Schwartzenegger’s withdrawal of support for offshore drilling, DUH! Is it going to take a calamity of this scale to end every risky environmental practice? How much bigger does an oil spill need to be before the world starts contemplating a complete voluntary end to oil drilling? The same could be asked about nuclear power.

  6. Joe,

    The Deepwater Horizon flies the flag of the Marshall Islands, as do most of Transocean’s deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf

    What’s with these Flags of Convenience? Another way to skirt US safety regs & US taxes?


  7. Steve Bloom says:

    That would be “flew,” TDC. But anyway, the Marshall Islands? There’s a major piece of irony.

  8. thethinkingman says:

    A link ( sorry about the source for the purists ) that has some decent tech speak and pictures.

  9. jorleh says:

    The amount of oil in the BP well?

    Has anybody some idea of the amount of oil there down to spill up?

    10 million barrels?

  10. nestor g ramirez says:

    it appears that cost cutting, by not using certain safety equipmente or valves,(accoustic sensing and safety valves other than blowout preventers) and using the marshall islands (not usa territory) as a flag to avoid usa safety regulations, and bad judgement by putting out the fire when there was nothing to save,(with fire out there is more oil pollution, and contradictory burning of it now that it is floating which makes it more difficult to control) have caused a mayor change in the future of offshore drilling in the usa. the other mayor oil companies must be placing a lot of pressure on BP, as much or more than the usa regulation organizations must be putting on BP, because they will be affected. all of the above goes to show that there must be more strict control of these operations of oil companies.

  11. Mike #22 says:

    thinkingman, I noticed the rather well written piece at Watts’ also. I don’t think the professor wrote that. What is really odd is how normal the comments are–they actually seem upset by the environmental impacts. Another data point in charting the culture wars.

    The lack of actual information from BP etc is irritating. They had real time data feed from that ship–where is that information? They’ve got six robots down there trying to clear the fault on the BOP–where is the situation report on this?

  12. PSU Grad says:

    Ya just gotta love it, especially the part where the US is responsible for defense of the Marshall Islands.

    From the CIA Factbook:

    After almost four decades under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands attained independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association. Compensation claims continue as a result of US nuclear testing on some of the atolls between 1947 and 1962. The Marshall Islands hosts the US Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) Reagan Missile Test Site, a key installation in the US missile defense network.

    From Wikipedia:

    In 1986, the Compact of Free Association with the United States entered into force, granting the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) its sovereignty. The Compact provided for aid and U.S. defense of the islands in exchange for continued U.S. military use of the missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll. The independence procedure was formally completed under international law in 1990, when the UN officially ended the Trusteeship status.

  13. mike roddy says:

    This is another example of what happens when accountants run the world- and use incorrect risk assessment data. Wnen the money is flowing, nobody wants to look at it too closely- or themselves, for that matter.

    As for the deniers laying low, don’t worry, they’ll be back. Watts is smarter than Rush and Palin, but that’s not saying much.

  14. PSU Grad says:

    To Mike Roddy @ 13: You’ve hit the nail dead on. As an accountant in one of my current lives, I find it’s ceased being a “profession” and is the provence of the game players, charlatans and the “what’s in it for me” crowd. Had I known what would become of accounting I never would have started graduate school, at least not in accounting. While there are obvious exceptions, there’s no longer a sense of context and humanity. It’s all about making “the numbers” and we’ll do it however we have to.

    It’s a race to the bottom, and we now have some idea of what the finish line looks like. There are many other examples of things held together (literally or figuratively) with bubble gum and bailing wire just to make “the numbers”. We’ll hear about some in the future when things go wrong, we won’t hear about others, in most cases it’s a matter of dumb luck.

  15. PSU Grad says:

    Should have been “baling wire”, sorry.

  16. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Joe –

    on the faint offchance you’ve not seen it, this report on an NOAA prognosis seems worth posting.

    “The Gulf oil spill is much worse than originally believed

    It’s now likely that the actual amount of the oil spill dwarfs the Coast Guard’s figure of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

    Independent scientists estimate that the renegade wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf could be spewing up to 25,000 barrels a day. If chokeholds on the riser pipe break down further, up to 50,000 barrels a day could be released, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration memo obtained by the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register.”



    [JR: I posted that estimate over the weekend.]

  17. MADurstewitz says:

    My understanding is that the oil field under the new and improved Deepwater Submersible, err . . . Horizon, is the largest oil field in the Gulf of Mexico and is thought to contain about 1 billion barrels of oil.

  18. Can we please decide on a new “paper of record” ?

    The New York Times ceased being the paper of record some time ago.

    Any suggestions? I tried looking at the Los Angeles Times, but it seems a bit regional.

  19. Louise says:

    Re: comment #6, see Mark Schapiro’s Jan.2004 Frontline/WORLD story, The Lawless Seas”

  20. OK you guys — don’t just blame the bean counters. Blame the 1980s culture of greed is good. Then the less government is better crowd. Then the let the market rule crowd (which goes with the rational investor crowd — what a load of bunk, buy hey, guys got Nobel prizes for that bunk).

    Ethics fell by the wayside 20-30 years ago, and now we are reaping the results.

    Tenney (M.Acc., M.B.A., ex-C.P.A.)

  21. The count so far is about 3 million gallons of oil has been pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. So just the cost of the oil wasted is about $6,000,000. The cost to our coastlines, our economy, our national security rises every day this continues. So including the average cost estimates of the clean up rapidly approaching 4 billion dollars …

  22. Dave says:

    One can not ignore the possibility that this was not an accident. This could be the work of a radical “Greene”. All the Green Associations were incensed with Obama’s opening up more Ocean areas to drilling. This happened just three weeks after that announcement. The FBI considers Eco-terrorist a bigger threat than Osama Bin Laden.

    That was the newest rig with all the bells and whistles and three levels of shut down. They did not have the 4th acoustic shut off valve. Only two Countries currently require the acoustic shut-off. The USA should require this shut-off device on all new underwater drilling.

  23. bcw says:

    Sheesh Dave, listening to Limbaugh? Did you see the size of the explosions? Have you read the reports from workers on the rig? There is substantial evidence of uncontrolled methane bubbles and no evidence of terrorism. Methane ices is the reason the dome containment failed.

    What’d they do, drive a truck up to the rig filled with McVeigh Fertilizer?