Spill Commission: Hubris, greed, and corruption led to Gulf disaster

I argued back in May that the three causes of BP’s Titanic oil disaster were Recklessness, Arrogance, and Hubris.   Eight months later, the presidential commission has come to pretty much the same conclusion, as Brad Johnson reports:

The president’s commission on the BP oil disaster has found that it was an “avoidable” catastrophe “rooted in systemic failures by industry management” and “by failures of government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.” With a minute-by-minute retelling of the corners cut and mistakes made before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the bipartisan commission reconstructs how BP, Halliburton, and Transocean repeatedly chose profit-taking risks, then ignored the warning signs that the risks were going bad “” while the hobbled Minerals Management Service, with limited oversight and access, trusted the oil officials’ judgment that everything was under control.

With a political system designed to protect oil companies from sufficient oversight, systemic greed, hubris, and corruption led to the deaths of 11 rig workers and the poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico, the preview of the commission’s final report, due next week, has found.

Greed: The spill commission identified nine different instances in which BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made decisions that saved time “” and thus money “” but increased the risk of catastrophe:

None of BP’s (or the other companies’) decisions in Figure 4.10 appear to have been subject to a comprehensive and systematic risk-analysis, peer-review, or management of change process. The evidence now available does not show that the BP team members (or other companies’ personnel) responsible for these decisions conducted any sort of formal analysis to assess the relative riskiness of available alternatives.

For example, BP chose to use an untested mixture of re-used fluids during the negative pressure test, in order to exploit a loophole in the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act to avoid having to dispose of them onshore as hazardous waste; Halliburton didn’t wait for test results confirming the safety of the cement mixture; and Transocean ran multiple operations while conducting the hazardous effort to close the well.

Hubris: Repeatedly, the drilling companies assumed that the choices they made didn’t increase risks, or simply believed that the likelihood of disaster was so low that warning signs were ignored. A central example was how they glossed over test results that the cement job that was supposed to seal the well had failed:

Given the risk factors surrounding the primary cement job and other prior unusual events (such as difficulty converting the float valves), the BP Well Site Leaders and, to the extent they were aware of the issues, the Transocean crew should have been particularly sensitive to anomalous pressure readings and ready to accept that the primary cement job could have failed. It appears instead they started from the assumption that the well could not be flowing, and kept running tests and coming up with various explanations until they had convinced themselves their assumption was correct.

Transocean had “an eerily similar near-miss on one of its rigs in the North Sea four months prior to the Macondo blowout,” when an apparently successful negative pressure test led rig workers to miss warning signs of a blowout. “Had the rig crew been adequately informed of the prior event and trained on its lessons,” the commission concludes, “events at Macondo may have unfolded very differently.”

Corruption: The commission also found fault with the Minerals Management Service, which left the companies largely to their own devices, deferring to their last-minute decisions that set the disaster in motion:

Many critical aspects of drilling operations were left to industry to decide without agency review. For instance, there was no requirement, let alone protocol, for a negative-pressure test, the misreading of which was a major contributor to the Macondo blowout. Nor were there detailed requirements related to the testing of the cement essential for well stability.

Responsibilities for these shortfalls are best not assigned to MMS alone. The root cause can be better found by considering how, as described in Chapter 3, efforts to expand regulatory oversight, tighten safety requirements, and provide funding to equip regulators with the resources, personnel, and training needed to be effective were either overtly resisted or not supported by industry, members of Congress, and several administrations. As a result, neither the regulations nor the regulators were asking the tough questions or requiring the demonstration of preparedness that could have avoided the Macondo disaster.

In what may turn out to be an act worthy of criminal prosecution, Halliburton covered up test results finding that the cement slurry chosen by BP for the Macondo well “was unstable.” Instead, “Halliburton personnel responded instead by modifying the test conditions””specifically, the pre-testing conditioning time””and thereby achieving an arguably successful test result.” Furthermore, “Halliburton documents strongly suggest that the final foam stability test results indicating a stable slurry may not even have been available before Halliburton pumped the primary cement job at Macondo. If true, Halliburton pumped foam cement into the well at Macondo at a time when all available test data showed the cement would be, in fact, unstable.”

Brad Johnson, in a WonkRoom cross-post.

10 Responses to Spill Commission: Hubris, greed, and corruption led to Gulf disaster

  1. catman306 says:

    Please keep us informed about any criminal prosecutions connected with the Gulf Oil Disaster.

  2. Solar Jim says:

    “systemic greed, hubris, and corruption led to”
    . . . the downfall of America.

    And it is getting worse. Fascistic plutocracy. This goes better with Koch. We will never have “clean” energy with a dirty government.

    Of the people, for the people my you know what. We have a “well oiled” government, financed by transnational investors and foreign interests.

    “systemic greed, hubris, and corruption led to” Well, duh. Ten years and counting. What’s next, besides explosions, despoilment and destabilization of numerous kinds? I say remove their corporate charter in America. All of them, including former Vice (you can say that again) President Cheney’s “old” firm.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    To those three qualities I would add one more: stupidity.

  4. Leif says:

    And take the MONEY BACK!

  5. jcwinnie says:

    prelude: an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important

  6. Leif says:

    And then what do you do with the money?

    Invest it in a green Nurturing economy comes to mind.


    Let them keep it and invest in Tar Sands because they can make a few more percent. It is legal, so there and they got a “Tea Party” to prove it!

  7. Raul M. says:

    Take care, for living in harmony with the
    natural world has different meanings
    Than it did for my father’s generation.

  8. Rabid Doomsayer says:
    Earlier concerns about another rig
    A gas rig but very similar problem.

    They do not learn.

  9. Leif says:

    Then there is the whole issue of the eleven lives lost in that flaming inferno.

    Can we honor their Spirits knowing that they allowed humanity to see the future?

    Allowed humanity to act in time and thus avert disaster on countless billions of Spirits yet to be…

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I fearlessly predict that nothing will happen. The Repugnant Ones will quash the commission’s findings, apologise to BP and Halliburton for the ‘carmnist varmints” audacity and lack of respect, and vow to get ‘gummint offa business’s back’. When you think of this fiasco, just imagine what it’s like in Nigeria, or Alberta for that matter. Life is an externality to creation’s highest purpose-profit.