Posts Tagged ‘National Commission’

Industry standards are critical to safety achievement. They represent best practices as determined by leading experts in the many disciplines that support oil and gas exploration and development. Another plus for standards is that, unlike regulations, they can be developed in a timely manner, particularly where there is an immediate need. However, industry mergers and streamlining have reduced the diversity of input, and some companies either do not participate or participate primarily to promote or protect their particular interest. The need for a consensus can also result in “lowest common denominator” outcomes that lack the necessary rigor.

Minerals Management Service (MMS) reviews indicated that cementing issues were the leading contributing factor to well control incidents between 1992 and 1996 (see chart below). On August 16, 2000, MMS challenged a new API cementing work group to improve zonal isolation, reduce the occurrence of sustained casing pressure, and prevent annular flow incidents before, during, and after cementing operations. Unfortunately, the standard was long delayed because of internal disagreements within the work group. Feedback indicated that some participants preferred a watered down, less rigorous version.

It is undisputed that the primary cement at Macondo failed to isolate hydrocarbons in the formation from the wellbore—that is, it did not accomplish zonal isolation. If the cement had set properly in its intended location, the cement would have prevented hydrocarbons from flowing out of the formation and into the well. The cement would have been a stand-alone barrier that would have prevented a blowout even in the absence of any other barriers (such as closed blowout preventer rams, drilling mud, and cement plugs).

Chief Counsel’s Report, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

API Standard 65-2, Isolating Potential Flow Zones During Well Construction, if completed in a timely manner and complied with would likely have prevented not only the Macondo disaster, but also the 2009 Montara blowout in Australia. (The Montara investigation hearings were covered extensively on this blog in 2010.) This important standard was ultimately finalized in a reactive manner after the Macondo well blew out.

Standard 65-2 focuses on the prevention of flow through or past barriers that are installed during well construction. A few key elements that are pertinent from a Macondo perspective:

  • Companies are required to perform a risk assessment prior to utilizing foamed cement and make sure that the results of this assessment are incorporated in the cementing plan. In setting the production casing on the Macondo well, foamed cement was used in an oil-based mud environment, destablizing the cement and contributing to the failure to isolate the highly productive oil reservoir.
  • The standard specifies float valve and cement requirements for the shoe track at the base of the casing, the Macondo failure point. (Weatherford float equipment failures were a common element to both the Montara and Macondo blowouts. Weatherford’s $75 million settlement with BP seems rather modest when one considers the magnitude of the damage costs.)
  • The framework in Annex D of the standard does a good job of outlining the questions that should be asked in conducting a cementing risk assessment. These issues identified in the Chief Counsel’s report, which includes an outstanding review of the technical and management issues associated with the cementing/zonal isolation of the Macondo reservoirs, should have been addressed by BP and their contractors before initiating the well suspension program:
    • narrow pore pressure/fracture gradient;
    • use of nitrogen foamed cement;
    • use of long string casing design;
    • short shoe track;
    • limited number of centralizers;
    • uncertainty regarding float conversion;
    • limited pre-cementing mud circulation;
    • decision not to spot heavy mud in rathole;
    • low cement volume;
    • low cement flow rate;
    • no cement evaluation log before temporary abandonment; and
    • temporary abandonment procedures that would severely underbalance the well and place greater stress than normal on the cement job.

Unfortunately, such an assessment was not conducted and critical operational decisions were made in a rash manner with the objective of saving time. We know the outcome – 11 lives lost, massive pollution, and enormous social costs

Despite making multiple changes over the last nine days before the blowout, the Macondo team did not formally analyze the risks that its temporary abandonment procedures created. The Macondo team never asked BP experts such as subsea wells team leader Merrick Kelley about the wisdom of setting a surface cement plug 3,000 feet below the mudline to accommodate setting the lockdown sleeve or displacing 8,300 feet of mud with seawater without first installing additional physical barriers. It never provided rig personnel a list of potential risks associated with the plan or instructions for mitigating those risks.

Almost every decision the Chief Counsel’s team identified as having potentially contributed to the blowout occurred during the execution phase.

Chief Counsel’s Report


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While C-SPAN has broadcast some of the proceedings, the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation hearings have inexplicably not been streamed live by the Coast Guard (USCG) and Department of the Interior (DOI).  The National Commission and Chemical Safety Board streamed their hearings live, but the USCG and DOI have not done so.  Why? This is perhaps the most significant accident in the history of the US offshore oil and gas program, and the most notable worldwide offshore disaster since Piper Alpha in 1988. Eleven men died on the Deepwater Horizon.  Economic costs will total in the tens of $billions. Major regulatory changes, some of which don’t appear to address identified risks, are being imposed.

The upcoming hearings are particularly important because the BOP issues that will be discussed have enormous international significance. In this era, the world shouldn’t have to travel to New Orleans to observe the hearings, rely on sketchy press reports, or wait months for transcripts to be released. (And how is it that the Montara Inquiry Commission in Australia was able to post transcripts within hours after the conclusion of each day’s hearing?)

Accident prevention is dependent on complete and timely information.  Had more people paid attention to Montara, Macondo may have been prevented. The upcoming Deepwater Horizon BOP hearings are of critical importance, and should be streamed so that all interested parties can follow the proceedings.

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In recent years various bodies have concluded that certain MMS offices and programs have violated ethical rules or guidelines. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, some questioned whether ethical lapses played any role in causing the blowout. The Chief Counsel‘s team found no evidence of any such lapses.

National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Chief Counsel’s Report, page 261

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Courtesy of BOE’s Cheryl Anderson and Gary Gentile of Platts Oilgram News:

The Gryphon FPSO will remain shut-in after 4 mooring line failures on 0n 4 February. 74 workers were safely evacuated; 43 remain onboard.

Draft Administration comments on the National Commission’s legislative recommendations.

Michael Bromwich speech at Baker Institute, Rice University on 11 February.

House testimony of Commissioners Don Boesch and Terry Garcia on 11 February.

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While thunder-snow created a surreal setting outside, the scene was rather predictable inside as the National Commission co-chairs testified before the House Natural Resource Committee.  Members acknowledged the Commission’s service, questioned qualifications, expressed frustration with the “permitorium,” raised concerns about our economic and energy future, and disputed the conclusion that “systemic industry failures” contributed to the disaster.  Others suggested that Macondo safety issues had not been resolved, that the risks associated with offshore drilling were not being managed properly, and that everyone else in the world regulates offshore operations more effectively than the US (or at least their disasters have been less recent).

Putting all that aside, I was pleased by the interest of the members in the BOP failure. They seem to share our frustration with the delays in the BOP examination/testing/forensics/autopsy. Perhaps the Committee can determine the status of this very important aspect of the investigation, and provide a summary of what has happened since the stack was recovered and what work remains to be accomplished. That would seem to be a reasonable request.

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1. This is a surprise.  Does anyone know more about this conference?

U.S. experts will participate in a conference on oil safety in Cuba this April, Reuters reported. The conference comes as the BP disaster on the U.S. side of the Gulf of Mexico is raising concern over the start of offshore drilling in Cuban waters this year. The arrival of an exploratory drilling platform in Cuban waters that had been expected for early this year was reportedly postponed to summer.

2. TheHill.com has a pretty good energy blog of particular interest to Washington-types (you know who you are!).

National oil spill commission co-chairman William Reilly called on the Obama administration to think about negotiating a treaty with Mexico and possibly Cuba that would lay out uniform safety standards for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

3. Nothing new is being reported on the blowout/uncontrolled flow/gas leak beneath the East Cameron block 278 B platform that Apache is calling a “water disturbance.” Spin doctors never sleep.

Based on the limited information that is available, well integrity issues loom large and there appear to be some disturbing similarities with the Main Pass 91 blowout in 2007.

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Wall Street Journal

The conclusions of the presidential commission’s inquiry into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident published Thursday make it increasingly likely that BP will not be found grossly negligent and will avoid the harshest financial penalties for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Pre-trial orders

Siding with arguments by the Plaintiffs, Judge Barbier concluded that the depositions should go forward in New Orleans, rather than in Houston as preferred by BP.

BP vs. TO vs. Halliburton (quotes from New York Times article)

In a statement on Wednesday, BP noted that the commission had found fault with a number of companies, not only BP, the main owner of the well.

Halliburton said in a statement that it had acted at BP’s direction in preparing and injecting cement into the well. It said tests the panel identified as indicating problems with its cement formula were preliminary and did not contribute to the disaster. Halliburton also criticized the commission for what it called selective omissions of exculpatory material it gave to the panel’s staff.

A spokesman for Transocean said that BP, not Transocean, made the major decisions in the hours before the blowout. “Based on the limited information made available to them, the Transocean crew took appropriate actions to gain control of the well,” the spokesman said. “They were well trained and considered to be among the best in the business.”

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click on table to enlarge

Click for the chapter on the causes of the blowout

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As presented this morning:
  • Core mission: achieve excellence in system safety across offshore oil and gas industryIndependent auditing function
  • Cannot lobby – cannot be the American Petroleum Institute
  • Company CEOs and boards of directors provide leadership and ensure engagement of employees with it
  • Institute is empowered to use real rewards and sanctions to help all industry players overcome the enemies of safety –ignorance, arrogance, and complacency.

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This well-written draft report is fascinating reading for those who closely followed the various attempts to contain and kill the Macondo well.

A couple of concerns:

  1. The report relies heavily on anecdotes and qualitative judgments attributed to unnamed individuals. For example, twelve sources are cited in the footnotes on page 6, but only one is mentioned by name.  No information is provided about the qualifications or responsibilities of the unnamed sources, so it is difficult to assess the significance of their comments.
  2. The narrative ends rather abruptly without any discussion about the decision to continue with the relief well after the successful static kill operation.  The report simply states that BP proceeded with the relief well to finally kill Macondo.  As indicated previously on BOE, this is not entirely accurate. Macondo was already killed, and the well could have been secured through conventional plugging and abandonment procedures.  The relief well was presumably continued to verify that the annulus was sealed and provide information that might be useful as part of the investigation.  However, the relief well did not kill the well and the intercept was not necessary for that purpose.

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