Unmanaged Risk in the Gulf

The report warns us that even a giant energy producer may ignore warnings and fail to analyze risks properly.

The BOEMRE investigative panel’s final report summing up the failures and errors that caused the April 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig should be required reading for everyone who clamors for the United States to drill its way to energy independence. Just open the Arctic or allow drilling to accelerate in the Gulf of Mexico, and we’ll soon see jobs aplenty and cheaper gas prices, some say.

Prices have been falling, and the predictions may be correct. But the report, which is dedicated to the 11 workers killed in the explosion and praises nearby crews who helped 115 survivors evacuate, warns us that even a giant energy producer such as BP may ignore warnings and fail to analyze risks properly. A Lloyd’s report on Sept. 22 supports it, in a way, by pointing out the challenges of drilling ever deeper.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement's investigating panel concluded multiple failures caused the explosion. They aimed some recommendations at the blowout preventer, a 350-ton stack of safety valves and shutoff equipment that failed to shear off the drill pipe and halt the flow of hydrocarbons from the wellhead as designed. The panel said federal regulators should consider researching the effects of a flowing well on the ability of a subsea BOP to shear pipe and also consider researching a blind shear ram design that incorporates an improved pipe-centering shear ram. (DNV examined the damaged BOP after it was raised and concluded pressure temporarily buckled the pipe, so it was not centered in a way that allowed the blind shear ram to cut it successfully.)

The report lists numerous factors as contributing causes of the explosion and well blowout. These include the rig crew's failure to stop work after encountering multiple hazards and warnings; that BP performed no formal risk assessment of critical operational decisions in the days leading up to the blowout; and BP's "failure to document, evaluate, approve, and communicate changes associated with Deepwater Horizon personnel and operations." While BP and Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, had a bridging document that merged their respective safety programs, it did not address well control, and the rig crew was trained and operated in accordance with Transocean's manual, the report states.


This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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