Foreign Policy’s Steve LeVine explains, “The itsy-bitsy problem that doomed BP’s well“:
In a new report prepared for the U.S. Interior Department, though, we get good news and bad news. The good news is that the blowout preventer does what is suggested in the photos and accompanying charts. The bad news, according to the 551-page report by Det Norske Veritas, a Norwegian risk management company, is that it only does so in photographs and charts, and not in real-life crises such as the Macondo blowout. (Here is volume 1 of the report. Here is volume 2).
The industry and even the Interior Department want to apply dispersant to this problem so that no one sees it, but it is simply too important a matter to let that happen.
Now none of this is really news — see my May 2010 story, Stupak stunner: Oil well’s blowout preventer had leaks, dead battery, design flaws, “How can a device that has 260 failure modes be considered fail-safe?”
Still, this new Interior report should be a wake-up call to the industry and the Gulf Coast. Here’s Maddow’s must-see story, in which she notes, “The Interior Dept. is not happy with our coverage of this issue. And you know what? I’m glad”:
Kudos to Maddow for staying on the story.
Here’s more from Levine:
In the case of Macondo, the intense pressure of the blowout bent the well pipe, and pushed it out of position. And when the mighty sheers were activated, they could not close entirely. It was through that “not entirely” — a 1.4-inch diameter opening, according to the Wall Street Journal — that much of the oil flowed. Read on for more details.
This modest report suggests that the industry consider the impact of a discombobulated pipe on “the ability of the blowout preventer components to complete their intended design or function.” It proposes that “the findings of these studies should be considered and addressed in the design of future blowout preventers and the need for modifying current blowout preventers.”(The blowout preventer image … is from the Christian Science Monitor)
Over at the Journal, Ben Casselman and Russell Gold get the message synthesized by Elmer Danenberger, who in 2009 retired as the Interior Department’s overseer of U.S. offshore drilling rules: “They have to rethink the whole design.”
In fact, this conclusion is not a surprise. As Casselman and Gold note, the oil industry has known for many years that the blowout preventers work in only a fraction of accidents, and that they have been
prone to failure, especially as drilling has moved into deeper water, requiring thicker, tougher pipe. In 2004, a study commissioned by federal regulators found that only three of 14 newly built rigs had blowout preventers that could squeeze off and cut the pipe at the water pressure likely to be experienced at the equipment’s maximum water depth.
Slumber well, Gulf Coast residents — or at least that’s what the industry hopes you’ll keep doing.