What questions do you think the BP disaster commission should answer?

Posted on  

"What questions do you think the BP disaster commission should answer?"

Investigation must be free, clear, and complete

CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss, who first proposed the commission idea on May 4, offers his answer to the question of what areas the investigation should pursue.

A dead Portuguese Man-O-War floats on a blob of oil in the waters of Chandeleur Sound, Louisiana.  Source:  AP/Eric Gay

President Obama is likely to sign an executive order sometime during the next several days that would create an independent commission to investigate the causes behind the tragic BP oil disaster. A thorough independent investigation is essential to understand what caused the explosion that cost 11 workers their lives, and what led to the failure of the blowout preventer that was supposed to prevent an oil gusher.

The independent commissions established by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to investigate the Three Mile Island near-nuclear meltdown and the Challenger Space Shuttle accident, respectively, provide valuable guidance for the design and operation of the BP investigation.

Unlike many congressionally chartered commissions, the TMI and Challenger commissions were not required to have a particular bipartisan balance. The TMI panel did not establish specific criteria for its membership. President Carter appointed prominent people from various fields. The chair was Dartmouth College President John Kemeny, who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. The panel included five professors, a union president, a CEO, a governor, an environmental leader, and a resident near TMI.

The executive order to create the Challenger panel required members “from among distinguished leaders of the government, and the scientific, technical, and management communities.” Its chair was former Attorney General and Secretary of State William Rogers. The panel included two former astronauts, a former test pilot, and physicists and engineers from both academia and the aerospace industry.

The BP disaster panel should follow the Challenger model. The executive order should require that the panel includes members who are senior or retired government officials, distinguished marine biologists, oceanographers, chemists, geologists, and petroleum engineers, as well as management experts. It should also include at least one member of a nongovernmental environmental organization, a union leader, and a local official or citizen of an affected community.

The executive order establishing the TMI commission provided much more guidance for its investigation than the Challenger commission. The TMI charter included “a technical assessment of the events and their causes,” as well as an assessment of the utility’s management, emergency preparedness and response by federal agencies, and “an evaluation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing, inspection, operation and enforcement procedures as applied to this facility.”

The BP disaster commission should follow the TMI model. The executive order should require the study and investigation to include:

  • A technical assessment of the explosion, blow out, oil flow, and their causes
  • An estimate of the quantity of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico
  • An analysis of the roles of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton in this event
  • An assessment of the emergency preparedness of these three companies, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Interior, and the Department of Homeland Security
  • An appraisal of what agency should coordinate future emergency responses
  • A review of occupational safety measures on the rig
  • An evaluation of the Minerals Management Service’s leasing, permitting, oversight, and enforcement procedures applied to this and similar deep sea wells
  • A preliminary analysis of the public health, economic, and ecologic impacts of the blowout
  • An assessment of the public’s right to know about the accident and its aftermath, and BP’s, Transocean’s, and Halliburton’s responsibility to provide accurate, comprehensible, and timely information
  • A review of the technologies and safeguards employed by other nations to prevent similar disasters at their wells
  • Appropriate recommendations based on the commission’s findings

Neither the TMI nor Challenger executive orders explicitly required public hearings, but both panels conducted them. The BP panel should conduct public hearings, including at least one in the most heavily affected area to receive testimony on the disaster’s effects on the public health, economy, and ecology of affected communities.

The TMI and Challenger commissions had six and four months, respectively, to conduct their investigations and issue their reports and recommendations. Since the BP oil disaster is much larger than either of these events, the commission should have up to a year to complete its work. This event will continue to wreak havoc for years to come, but the commission should have a relatively short time for its investigation and report. This would enable oil companies and federal agencies to promptly implement the recommendations and significantly reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.

The federal government should also take a time out on issuing new offshore oil or gas leases and commencing development on idle deepwater leases until the BP oil disaster commission issues its final report and recommendations. We cannot risk the further expansion of deepwater oil and gas drilling until we understand what went wrong and how to fix it.

Both the TMI near-nuclear meltdown and the Challenger accident were shocking, unprecedented events. The postincident independent investigations produced sober assessments of what went wrong, and recommendations to avoid future occurrences. The breadth and size of the BP oil disaster will dwarf either of these unfortunate events. President Obama must design the commission so that its investigation into this catastrophe is independent, comprehensive, and transparent. This is an essential element to prevent another oil blowout like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Guest blogger Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. This was reposted the Center for American Progress website.

« »

42 Responses to What questions do you think the BP disaster commission should answer?

  1. prokaryote says:

    EXXON’S 10-YEAR MANIPULATION
    OF VALDEZ OIL SPILL SCIENCE
    http://jomiller.com/exxonvaldez/manipulation.html

  2. Leif says:

    Who is making money on the oil spill? Are there more cost effective approaches? Should the Oil Industry be covering the tab or is the public the proper underwriter? Having the public underwrite the billing does that not just make the cleanup more work for the oil industry as they have the equipment? I sure don’t.

    http://www.enn.com/press_releases/3367

  3. Chris Winter says:

    Two questions are uppermost in my mind:

    1. Why did the drilling rig sink? I suspect it was because one or more of its flotation chambers was breached due to the heat of the fire during the two days it burned. The reason it sank should be confirmed.

    2. Was equipment maintenance on the rig deficient, as it seems to have been? Specifically:

    a) Why was evidence of the damage to the annular discounted?
    b) Why were the controls for the riser “live” during the pressure test, leading to the inadvertent damage?
    c) Why was the leak in the hydraulic system ignored?
    d) What was the lifetime of the batteries in the BOP, and how often were they to be checked?

  4. Joseph Reid says:

    An interesting question for the BP disaster commission is posed by this article in The Guardian:

    ——————————————————————————–

    May 20, 2010
    The Guardian

    Did Deepwater methane hydrates cause the BP Gulf explosion?

    Strange and dangerous hydrocarbon offers no room for human error

    by David Sassoon

    [Excerpt]

    The vast deepwater methane hydrate deposits of the Gulf of Mexico are an open secret in big energy circles. They represent the most tantalizing new frontier of unconventional energy — a potential source of hydrocarbon fuel thought to be twice as large as all the petroleum deposits ever known.

    For the oil and gas industry, the substances are also known to be the primary hazard when drilling for deepwater oil.

    Methane hydrates are volatile compounds — natural gas compressed into molecular cages of ice. They are stable in the extreme cold and crushing weight of deepwater, but are extremely dangerous when they build up inside the drill column of a well. If destabilized by heat or a decrease in pressure, methane hydrates can quickly expand to 164 times their volume.

    Survivors of the BP rig explosion told interviewers that right before the April 20 blast, workers had decreased the pressure in the drill column and applied heat to set the cement seal around the wellhead. Then a quickly expanding bubble of methane gas shot up the drill column before exploding on the platform on the ocean’s surface.

    Even a solid steel pipe has little chance against a 164-fold expansion of volume — something that would render a man six feet six inches tall suddenly the height of the Eiffel Tower.

    Scientists are well aware of the awesome power of these strange hydrocarbons. A sudden large scale release of methane hydrates is believed to have caused a mass extinction 55 million years ago. Among planners concerned with mega-disasters, their sudden escape is considered to be a threat comparable to an asteroid strike or nuclear war. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a Livermore, Ca.-based weapons design center, reports that when released on a large scale, methane hydrates can even cause tsunamis.

    So it is not surprising to anyone who knows about the physics of these compounds that the Deepwater Horizon rig was lost like a waterfly crumpled by a force of nature scientists are still just getting to know.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/20/deepwater-methane-hydrates-bp-gulf/print

    ——————————————————————————–

  5. knoxkp says:

    Leif – that’s such a sad story and I guess the sociopaths at BP are pretty much screaming “we want the same deal exxon got!” Let’s hope this time they’re held to account for their crimes. I posted this David Suzuki program, The legacy of the Exxon Valdez over here – http://newmediaandpolitics.blogspot.com/2010/05/legacy-of-exxon-valdez.html

    The human costs will be rolling in for a long timme to come – Prosecute!

  6. knoxkp says:

    The question I would ask, if it’s not obvious from my post, is how do the people at BP propose to pay for all the human costs that will be incurred? divorces, ruined lives, loss of livelihood, and suicides as in the case of the Valdez?

  7. Leif says:

    If you could spend 75 million, or what ever the “deductible” was in your insurance policy, to be involved in a multi-billion dollar cleanup program, would that not make you tend to disregard problems that might lead to a massive ecologic disaster. After all on a multi-billion dollar job $75 million is change. In fact if one were unscrupulous one could pad the bill that much and even get that back. Rummer has it that Blackwater, (Halliburton), overcharged that much and more in Iraq already.

  8. Leif says:

    Why did the drill rig sink? Chris, #4. Surely days of “fire hose” deluge would have found it’s way to the bilges. The pumps would be out very soon if not immediately after the fire started. Once the rig (was?) sunk all evidence on that front was a mile below the surface never to be entered in a court of law.

  9. Jeff Huggins says:

    The (Even) Bigger Picture

    Although the following question does not fall into the same category as the questions listed above, and is not particular to the mess in the Gulf, nevertheless, it’s a question that we should ask (at many levels) and a meta question on which this Commission should provide its considered views:

    Regarding matters that could involve such immense consequences (to resources such as water, to major habitats, to entire regional economies, to human health, etc.), can society afford to continue ignoring the precautionary principle? Put another way, what does the present mess — and other messes in recent history — tell us about whether we should allow ourselves to do things before we are darn certain that those things are safe and healthy to do? Who should have the burden of proof, so to speak? Should someone (or some company) proposing to do something (involving potentially large consequences) be required to prove that it will be entirely safe BEFORE being allowed to do it? Or, should companies be allowed to do major new things under the “hope” and “assumption” that things will be alright, and should those activities be halted or mitigated only AFTER they’ve been shown to cause substantial damage?

    Can we afford to continue with our present mindset — taking increasingly large risks before we know what might happen? Can doing so be consistent with genuine sustainability? Is it consistent with justice? Is it consistent with responsibility and excellent thinking? Is it ethical? Wise?

    Or is it (in many instances) risky, unsustainable, unjust, “gambling with other people’s money and lives”, unwise, irresponsible, immoral, and plain stupid?

    This is a “meta question” that one must ask, and this particular instance provides a great “case” on which to consider the matter.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  10. hisnamewas says:

    BP is now siphoning 5000b/day from their leak(s). Oil gusher fixed according to BP’s estimated barrels/day right?

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1927272520100520

  11. Raul says:

    Some say that a seal around the drilling pipe was damaged causing pieces
    of the seal to come into the room where the heavy mud was applied into the pipe. Wouldn’t that allow gas into that room as well if gas was present within the pipe above the cement plugs that Shot out of the roof
    of the room. It shouldn’t be just guess work what happened.

  12. Leif says:

    Right on Jeff. The Tea Baggers keep asking for 100% proof that Global Warming is a problem. We on the other hand should be asking if the present course is even 10% proven to NOT BE A PROBLEM!

  13. bcole says:

    The Gulf Catastrophe could have been avoided if the US were growing algae. Algae is renewable, does not affect the food channel and consumes CO2. No explosions, no fires, no deaths and no environmental problems. What’s wrong with that???

    Algae has been researched in US universities for over 35 years. It’s time to move it out of the lab and go into commercial-scale production. Algaepreneurs are starting to build commercial-scale plants throughout the US using all off-the-shelf existing technologies. More algae production plants are coming online. Algae is one solution to get the US off of foreign oil and create new jobs right here in the US. The algae industry is being built today by Americans who all want to get off foreign oil.

    To learn more about the fast-track commercialization of the industry, you may want to check out the National Algae Association.

  14. Leif says:

    The weight of the mud is the seal in most conditions. The mud is removed to allow oil and gas to flow and the seal is for emergency and test procedures. Raul, #12.

  15. substanti8 says:

    Information is power.  Information is the currency of democracy.  If our country is supposedly a representative democracy, then I would like the BP disaster commission to determine why our government allowed BP to control crucial information about the unfolding disaster.

  16. alexy says:

    The suggested issues to investigate are excellent. Possible additions include:
    1. Expanding the preliminary environmental and economic impact assessment by considering the effect of the Exxon Valdez on local envirnoment and economy now that 20 years have passed.
    2. Assess the role of all major corporate entities in this event, not just BP, Transocean and Haliburton.
    3. An overview of safety technology not in use by industry due to cost or need for further technical development or testing.
    4. Adding review of operating practices to the review of technologies and safeguards employed by other deep sea drillers.
    5. Leasing and regulating practices of other countries.
    6. In light of recent revelations regarding concerns previously raised in research literature, perform a review of academic and industry studies of risks and implications of offshore drilling.
    7. A statement regarding any potential to apply findings more broadly to other industries.

    As I have heard somewhere…its a start.

  17. Raul says:

    Thank-you Leif
    Still it didn’t go through the normal cash registers of the world.
    Second, expenses have changed for whatever tax dollars I may come up
    with.
    So how is the money going to be spent. Both sides need to rethink it
    beyond common ways. For certainly it ain’t business as usual.

  18. Mike #22 says:

    Was BP’s response to the blow out in proportion to the threat posed then, and now? –the BOP is apparently still restricting flow–what happens as the BOP erodes out?

    Should they have four rigs drilling relief wells right now, in the hope that one would cut the flow a day earlier? Eight rigs?

    Should they have mobilized major engineering firms around the world, and had the various solutions manufactured in air liftable pieces at all available shipyards, shipped to platforms and lowered to the site, even if none of them panned out?

    Should they have moved rigs over top of the spill and run down wide pipes with multiple electric submersible pumps to pull the plumes up to separator ships?

    Should they have built something that enclosed the BOP completely, clamping below it, with a shear and close mechanism on top?

    Should they have been collecting and publishing data on flow rates and composition in order to more fully prepare the response to this toxic mess?

    Should they have been using available sonar and other techniques to track underwater flow of contaminants? Should they be collecting hundreds of samples a day to determine the dilution process and impacts on ocean life?

    Should they be sampling ahead of the spill to get background levels of contaminants?

    Should they be preparing to respond to a second accident at another site, since they have already committed much reserves to this one?

    Should the have released the full MSDS for the (sulfamic acid?) based dispersants? And immediately commissioned multiple toxicity studies for this material?

  19. GFW says:

    What quantity of what dispersants were used?
    Why were those dispersants chosen, with attention to effectiveness and toxicity?

  20. Doug Bostrom says:

    I’d like to know how we plan on balancing the national security implications of domestic oil production w/the proprietary interests of private-sector entities such as BP, particularly the type of operations typified by this disaster?

    As it stands today, our economic security directly hinges in a unique way on activities run by agents entirely concerned with very narrow and self-interested metrics of success. It is truly remarkable and I think also unique that such an important single component of our economy and hence national security should offer essentially zero transparency to the public. In this case– unlike for instance timber harvests from public lands– the objective is not simply getting a royalty check for resources extracted but is in fact much larger, practically speaking the continued functioning of our economy.

    Why are operators such as BP allowed to run without any daily operational oversight or inspection on behalf of the public, who of course own the resource BP is extracting?

    Where is the threshold of operational incompetence that would allow the federal government to intervene with incentives to improve, how was it established and does it need updating? I think it’s clear from the present example that useful calibration of this inflection point is poor or absent.

    Although it’s not a perfect implementation we see in the case of coal that the federal government is deeply involved in ensuring that reasonably safe conditions are maintained in daily operations. Why is the roughly analogous context of offshore operations an exception?

    Why is BP able to control who views the aftermath of their disaster?

  21. Doug Bostrom says:

    I think I mentioned cement bond logs and their utility on a earlier thread. Anyway, here’s another question: why is a bond log an option on a well of this kind?

    Why was the following narrative even possible?

    BP hired a top oilfield service company to test the strength of cement linings on the Deepwater Horizon’s well, but sent the firm’s workers home 11 hours before the rig exploded April 20 without performing a final check that a top cementing company executive called “the only test that can really determine the actual effectiveness” of the well’s seal.

    A spokesman for the testing firm, Schlumberger, said BP had a Schlumberger team and equipment for sending acoustic testing lines down the well “on standby” from April 18 to April 20. But BP never asked the Schlumberger crew to perform the acoustic test and sent its members back to Louisiana on a regularly scheduled helicopter flight at 11 a.m., Schlumberger spokesman Stephen T. Harris said.

    http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/05/costly_time-consuming_test_of.html

    See, that’s operational incompetence engendered by narrow self-interest. It should not be possible for such a stupid decision to be made.

  22. Doug Bostrom says:

    I should clarify my previous comment, wireline operations are disruptive to other rig activities because nothing else useful can be performed on a hole while a wireline outfit is performing its work. From the perspective of the operator a rig is idle and yet still eating its way through piles of money while a log is being acquired so there’s a powerful incentive quite beyond the direct cost of the logging itself to skip tests.

    “Wireline” refers to the fact that instrumentation is lowered down the well on a wire which physically supports the instrumentation while also provided a data path to the surface. The wireline crew necessarily has exclusive access to the borehole while it’s busy.

    A trouble-free cement bond long will take a relatively brief amount of time to perform, a few hours. If things don’t go right which is sometimes the case because things break or otherwise don’t work then a wireline test of any kind may be prolonged to many hours, meaning lots of people and equipment being paid for doing nothing.

    Point is, BP made a gamble here that they’d be better served by not paying for an otherwise idle rig while a bond log was performed. This should not be a decision available to them in a context such as the one in question, it should be a matter of federal regulation that they suck up the costs of doing the job correctly.

  23. Dino Citraro says:

    Why has the “junk shot” option not been used yet? Is it because it’s the most difficult, or because it is the least financially attractive? Are there other reasons?

  24. Ted Nation says:

    I totally support an independent commission investigation but we should take care in selecting its members so that its conclusion are real and not just politically convenient as, I believe, the Challenger’s Commission’s were. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s dissent is instructive in this regard:

    “The shuttle … flies in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure on the order of a percent. (It is difficult to be more accurate).

    Official management … claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA’s perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believe it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between the managers and their working engineers.

    In any event, this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine — as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that ["Teacher in Space," Christa] McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risks than NASA management would have us believe.

    Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality, understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in a world of reality in comparing the costs and utility of the shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts and in estimating the costs and difficulties of each project. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed — schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support NASA, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.

    For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

  25. mike roddy says:

    Earthquakes don’t happen very often either, but engineers design for them. If the event is likely to cause more deaths in the case of a material failure- such as in a high rise building- a stronger earthquake is designed for, say 8.5 on the Richter scale, depending on the location.

    We’ve been building offshore rigs for a long time. The pressure that can develop in that underwater location should have been calculated by now. There are two ways that you can design for the extreme event that caused the blowout, and they form my questions:

    1. Is it fair to say that key offshore rig containment vessels do not have redundancy (a backup system or device if the primary one fails)? If not, why?

    2. People are trying to blame both poor workmanship by Halliburton or its sub or a canceled concrete inspection by BP. Should not the design have incorporated the possibility of workmanship and inspection errors through designing with a large safety factor, as is routine in construction engineering?

    It looks to me like basic engineering has not been practiced in this location, given the history of leaks and breakdowns in offshore rigs in the Gulf. This was therefore a systemic failure, where BP and its contractors were complicit in determining that it ate into their profits too much to design according to good engineering practice.

    This failure was therefore both inevitable and factored into the oil companies’ business plans. This means that they are financially liable for the full amount of damage plus penalties, regardless of corrupt “caps” and finger pointing. Their executives and accountants should face criminal prosecution for negligence.

  26. Mike #22 says:

    Mike @ 26, earthquakes…

    “Most new oil and gas facilities are well designed ductile structures that are usually able to accommodate significant earthquake demands except for relatively large ground movement or at critical connections. On the other hand, older facilities and weak links in networks present potential risks that are not always well understood”

    http://hazardscenter.unc.edu/diem/documents/DIEMgeotech_proc_FINAL.July09.pdf

  27. Chris Winter says:

    Leif wrote: “Surely days of “fire hose” deluge would have found it’s way to the bilges. The pumps would be out very soon if not immediately after the fire started. Once the rig (was?) sunk all evidence on that front was a mile below the surface never to be entered in a court of law.”

    I don’t think that’s a given. There have been fires on drill rigs before. And of course they get rained on too. It seems likely the flotation tanks would be sealed against such flooding from above.

    Granted, the bilge pumps would not be running. But I don’t think the water from the fire boats is the answer.

  28. prokaryote says:

    Acoustic induced seismic activities in depleted oil reservoirs is an intresting field to study.

  29. prokaryote says:

    Question:”Why has BP drilled in methane hydrate unstable areas, beside the fact that most accidents from drilling occur from hydrate become unstable.”

  30. prokaryote says:

    The Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling in Block 252 of an area known as the Mississippi Canyon of the Gulf, thought to contain methane hydrate-bearing sediments, according to government maps. The platform was operating less than 20 miles from a methane hydrate research site located in the same canyon at Block 118.

    “Gas hydrates are the number one flow assurance issue in deepwater drilling,” Carolyn Koh, an associate professor and co-director of the Hydrate Center, told us in an exclusive interview.
    http://solveclimate.com/blog/20100519/did-deepwater-methane-hydrates-cause-bp-gulf-explosion

  31. Leif says:

    It was flat water, nice weather, surely doors and hatches would have been open for ventilation, Chris, #28. The water would not need to get to the bilge proper just accumulate some place. Engine rooms, tool rooms, galley, crew quarters, it would make no difference. In fact the higher the accumulation the worse for stability.
    The 60 Minute interview reported that doors were blown from their hinges in the electricians office.

  32. Leif says:

    In addition Chris, #28, as soon as the vessel started to list even a little bit the rooms,which I am sure open to the middle, now become “buckets.” The more I think about it the more convinced I become in the fire boats contributing to the sinking.

  33. Leif says:

    Before the sinking we just had a fire burning most of the oil. Once the rig sank and the riser pipe crumpled and broke all future mitigation had to take place on the bottom of the sea a mile under water. True the rig may of sank from the fire alone but perhaps there would have been an opportunity to do something closer to the surface before that time. It was an oil and gas fire and water was not an option for putting it out anyway.
    From the get go I had the feeling that the fireboats were for show but I guess that could be my bias as well.

    We are just commentators on a blog site, we have the liberty to brainstorm and speculate.

  34. Chris Dudley says:

    I’d like to know why the people who have warned about this were not listened to, or even heard it appears. For example, the Sierra Club has this to say:

    Lease sales should be prohibited in areas that possess the following characteristics:

    1. High seismic activity, or
    2. Fragile or unstable geological structures, or
    3. Proximity to particularly diverse or productive marine ecosystems, or
    4. Proximity to federal or state marine sanctuaries or areas worthy of inclusion in such systems, or
    5. Where visual impact of offshore structures would significantly reduce aesthetic values, or
    6. Where, by reason of difficult oil-spill containment problems, busy shipping traffic, very deep water, or other factors, the risks are unusually high.

    http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/offshore.aspx

    They said that in 1974 and it remains their policy. Perhaps we don’t need a commission. Just cut and paste from the Sierra Club and we will be finished.

    Why, exactly, was sanity dispensed with when permits were granted for deep water drilling?

  35. Andy says:

    When deep water drilling began in earnest, a study was commissioned to investigate the possible fates of oil that would be released by a well blow-out. One of the possibilities models predicted was that the oil would form massive underwater plumes that would wreak havoc on ocean life for many years as it would be subject to much slower break down processes. These plumes might also slowly rise to the surface and create slicks that would occassionally plague the affected areas for many years.

    Has this occurred?

    If so, how large are they and what is the likely fate of these underwater plumes?

    If so, what damage will they likely cause?

  36. Tomas L.Martin says:

    Shame we don’t have Richard Feynman around anymore, he was a force of nature (or physics, if you prefer) at the Challenger inquest. Hopefully they recruit some scientists of a similar calibre this time – Although it already seems fairly clear what the investigation will find – gross negligence.

    As someone from the UK, it’s been alarming to see some comments talking about ‘British Petroleum’ and blaming it all on our country. Trust me, we’re just as appalled by this as you are. BP is just as British as McDonalds is American these days. They may have their headquarters somewhere, but that doesn’t mean much. They are a worldwide corporation with little care for the local populace wherever they are.

    I hope they don’t cap the cost to BP. They should pay every penny of the cleanup, even if it makes them bankrupt. They’re already morally bankrupt.

  37. jcwinnie says:

    Um, er, why would “America’s fiercest climate-change activist-blog” continue to peddle the idea that the federal government could act responsibly in this matter? Does anyone truly believe that the Commission possibly could conclude that all off-shore drilling should stop? And, if such a conclusion were to get through the gamut of powerful special interests, that the Federal government would enact such policy?

  38. Doug Bostrom says:

    Does anyone truly believe that the Commission possibly could conclude that all off-shore drilling should stop?

    Nice try. Is anybody actually proposing such, anyone with traction? No. What crude rhetorical tactic.

  39. Paul K2 says:

    I have over 15 years of engineering and operation experience in the oil industry, including offshore experience, and used to live and own a house in New Orleans.

    My first question (recommendation) relates to the command and control structure on deepwater wells:

    Some people claim that no one could have foreseen the problems that occurred in this accident. This Times Picayune story has some information on what went wrong, and other stories corroborate some of these details along with other problems.

    There were multiple errors made in this case. How can the Halliburton well completion drawing be correct, with a clear annular channel to the surface? How could anyone decide to displace the drilling mud with seawater, without knowing the integrity of the cement plugs? Why is it that the company man overruled the Transocean rig boss, after a huge argument, when the decision to displace to seawater was made?
    These are huge mistakes… Not only could “someone” forsee the problems, the WORKERS on THIS rig almost certainly had the skill and knowledge to prevent this catastrophe… but for reasons relating to a lousy command and control structure, they weren’t consulted, and were overruled!

    In these kinds of situations there has to be a an easy “backdoor” so that the Transocean, and Halliburton, and Schlumberger guys can get to the BP drilling engineer and company man, and hash this out. And if the procedure is unsafe, as these procedures were clearly dangerous, then allow someone to “pull the fire alarm”, and escalate the situation.

    I am becoming convinced that we need a level of oversight out there that can stand up to the company… Get the MMS to Hire some skilled drillers, and station one on each deepwater rig. Pay them really good money (get the money from the lease sale revenues, or assess a fee), but get an experienced hand out there that isn’t beholden to BP. If an experienced driller looked at this screwed up plan, he would have intervened in the rig boss/company man argument, and prevented this catastrophe! And no experienced drilling engineer would let the well completion plan shown by Halliburton go forward unquestioned!

    In addition to onsite oversight, we need a full risk and hazard review of deepwater drilling operations. The Santa Barbara blowout was caused when Union Oil decided to forego putting casing in the drilled hole to save a few bucks! The oil came up the uncased hole, found a fracture in the rock formation that lead up to the seafloor, and we ended up with a subsea blowout. After that, the risks were re-evaluated, and we used multiple casing strings run to the wellhead to prevent similar accidents, and the wellhead was located ON the platform or drilling rig! In deepwater drilling, the wellhead is on the ocean floor, in this case over 5000 feet below the rig floor. This poses a very different risk scenario, leading to very different hazards.

    It is very clear that no complete hazards and risk analysis has been done. Things like malfunctioning BOP, or failure of liner hangers, or poor cement jobs are foreseeable. They could have been anticipated. The fact that the annular seal in the BOP was apparently damaged earlier in the drilling process on this well, could have been simulated in a proper HAZOPS (hazard and operations) review. It is very clear, that no real hazard and risk assessment has been done. In California, risk assessments and hazards reviews are mandatory for large projects, but even there, when drilling is in Federal waters, the looser Federal regulations apply.

    Why isn’t there a tighter set of Federal requirements and regulations for deepwater? I believe Obama can do the actions I recommend in this comment, without any legislation required.

    I have tons more, but these two questions, are the key issues.

  40. Doug Bostrom says:

    Paul K2, that’s a fine summary.

    I only hope that when or if this matter comes to meting out a sufficiently exemplary and discouraging level of punishment, we won’t see persecution of people at the bottom of the food chain who were not in charge of cutting corners. Bloated compensation packages not only should reflect willingness to incur risk but also to square up to consequences.

  41. Karen S. says:

    Joe, you may have seen this already, but fyi:
    http://www.doioig.gov/upload/RIK%20REDACTED%20FINAL4_082008%20with%20transmittal%209_10%20date.pdf

    The same questions should be asked of BP that were asked in this investigation.