Topics: Deeply flawed BOP autopsy, More Bad News: BOEMRE Halts Floating Facility Startup Due to Equipment Failure, Interior Department will seek continual improvements in blowout preventers, BP emails indicate strain before Gulf oil spill, Transocean executives giving up safety bonuses, Process of combining allegations against BP in the wake of last year's oil spill begins with court filings, BP asks that fine not be based on total of Gulf spill, BP Still Doesn't Want You to See Its Tarballs

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Topics: Deeply flawed BOP autopsy, More Bad News: BOEMRE Halts Floating Facility Startup Due to Equipment Failure, Interior Department will seek continual improvements in blowout preventers, BP emails indicate strain before Gulf oil spill, Transocean executives giving up safety bonuses, Process of combining allegations against BP in the wake of last year's oil spill begins with court filings, BP asks that fine not be based on total of Gulf spill, BP Still Doesn't Want You to See Its Tarballs

The prospects for safety for deepwater drilling got a couple of new kicks in the teeth. Testimony before the Joint Coast Guard/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) hearings revealed that the the BOP autopsy that Det Norske Veritas (DNV) conducted was deeply flawed to the point of making the BOP autopsy results pretty much useless. We are left to hope that the Chemical Safety Board and the National Academy of Engineering will be able to wrest some useful data from the BOP autopsy wreckage.

The freestanding riser system, one of the main pillars for containment of spills, broke on one of the recent rigs that just got one of BOEMRE's shiny, new deepwater drilling permits. That's the same BOEMRE that tells us we should feel all warm and fuzzy about deepwater drilling because of the spiffy, untested containment systems.

It might be worth reviewing the sordid history that led up to the discredited autopsy results. When Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) chose DNV to do the BOP autopsy there were serious conflict of interest questions raised.
In 2007, DNV inspected and recertified the Deepwater Horizon's [owned by Transocean] safety procedures. In 2009, Transocean hired DNV to study the reliability of subsea blowout preventers. That same year, DNV named a Transocean vice president, N. Pharr Smith, to be chairman of DNV's rig owners' committee, which provides "input" to DNV's rule-making process.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB), a small government agency asked by Congress to investigate the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe pointed out the obvious to anyone not a part of the unholy alliance between the Department of the Interior's BOEMRE and the oil industry.

"It's of particular concern that DNV has done a specific analysis of the rig back in 2007, has opined separately on the reliability of BOPs and specifically taken the position that a second blind shear ram would only marginally make a difference," said Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical Safety Board. "We think those positions are a conflict that should have been reviewed early."

Unhappy that the CSB riffraff had been invited to the in-crowd's party, the Department of the Interior sought to exclude them from meaningful access to the BOP autopsy. I guess they thought that CSB had been a meanie to its BP buddies in its investigation of BP's Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and injuring more than 170 others.

The Interior Department has also been squabbling with the Chemical Safety Board over access to the blowout preventer autopsy.
The access is important, CSB officials said, because many tests can't be undone or repeated. Citing limited space and "safety concerns," Interior said that it would allow only one expert from the CSB, which often leads investigations of complex industrial accidents, including the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City oil refinery southeast of Houston.

Showing absolutely no embarrassment whatsoever about it's obvious conflict of industry DNV blithely charged forward by hiring one of its Transocean's buddy's managers to help out with the BOP autopsy.

DNV later arranged for Owen McWhorter, onetime subsea supervisor on the Deepwater Horizon, to assist in the testing.
According to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle, the Transocean employee [McWhorter] has manipulated equipment on the 50-foot-tall, 300-ton blowout preventer, while a government contractor runs it through a battery of tests in New Orleans.

Again, the CSB valiantly took on the role of being the skunk at the insiders' picnic.

The government instructed DNV to terminate its contract with McWhorter after concerns were raised last week by the Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency also investigating the disaster.

The decision to use the Transocean employee as a consultant appeared to violate a conflict-of-interest provision in the government's contract with DNV, acknowledged Michael Farber, a senior adviser for the ocean energy bureau, in a letter to the Chemical Safety Board.
Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso had said that while McWhorter wasn't on the rig when it blew up, he "still had responsibility" for the blowout preventer in the preceding weeks and months.

The Department of Interior couldn't have set things up more tidily to get the responsible parties off the hook. Transocean is sitting pretty because the investigator, DNV, shares their responsibility for the BOP being in working order. Cameron, the BOP's manufacturer, and BP are in hog heaven because it will be a walk in their park for their lawyers to argue to a jury that anything DNV finds holding them responsible is because DNV has a big dog in the BOP autopsy hunt. The public is the loser because the chances of there being an impartial BOP autopsy is slim to none with slim hightailing it out of town.

Fast forward to March 20 when the BOP autopsy was released basically finding that BOPs aren't designed to function as intended. That shouldn't have come as a huge shock to anyone given that DNV had found in previous study of deepwater blowouts that BOPs have a failure rate of 45 percent.

This Monday, The BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Joint Investigation Team started hearings on the BOP autopsy and things started unraveling before the hearing even got underway. It will be fascinating to see how the joint commission will handle the fiasco that followed.

Company that built blowout preventer objects to forensic report

David Jones, the lawyer for BOP-maker Cameron, said he objected that the data used to create computerized models of the accident had not been made available for Cameron and other interested parties to review. BP also joined Cameron in objecting to the lack of access to backup data.

"The report by Det Norske Veritas is based on a single hypothesis," Jones said. "That hypothesis is based not on testing but on computer models. The data that supports those computer models not included in the report. We requested the backup data on March 25."

Jones said the U.S. Interior Department would be releasing its own report analyzing the forensic report in 10 days.

Once the hearing started Cameron's attorney brought up the awkward fact that the computer model used for the BOP autopsy's conclusions was based on an impossible assumption. Oops!

BOP investigator admits to fault in model used in forensic examination

The lawyer, David Jones, showed that a model used by examiners at DNV depicted an impossibility: In running the computer models of how a key set of slicers and seals would have malfunctioned, it placed the drill pipe where oil was flowing in a place where it couldn't have been.

The model showed the drill pipe inside a wall of the BOP, and Neil Thompson, the project manager for DNV, was forced to admit it was an error in the model placement.

There was more awkwardness to come.

That, combined with Thompson's acknowledgement that he'd "never laid eyes on a blowout preventer" before he began this examination, called into doubt some of the most critical findings of the report.

Thompson also admitted that his team never conducted tests to determine flow pressures or figure out what forces caused the pipe to deflect inside the BOP and muck up the works.

It didn't seem that DNV troubled themselves to pay attention to witness testimony.

Thompson stumbled when Jones asked him repeatedly about how Det Norske Veritas determined a valve called the "upper annular" was closed. Testimony from surviving rig workers stated a different valve was the one closed.

BP then had their turn at the fun with the hapless Thompson.

Joining Jones in his skepticism of the forensic report was BP lawyer Richard Godfrey. He wanted to know whether there was any physical evidence that the 5.5-inch, heavy-duty drill pipe bowed in the middle, knocking it off-center. That's a key hypothesis of the inspectors' report.

Thompson said there was no physical evidence of the elastic bowing of the pipe. He said it was recovered as a straight, 28-foot piece because it would have straightened out after it was cut, about two days after the accident. Godfrey suggested that nobody in the industry had ever seen such "elastic buckling" of a drill pipe before. But Thompson said it's a commonly understood concept of physics.

It looks like DNV conveniently overlooked including the possibility that the blind shear rams might not have closed because Transocean, their BFF, might have neglected maintenance.

Uncertainties emerge in blowout preventer examination

Another important uncertainty was when the blind shear rams actually attempted to cut the pipe. Det Norske Veritas tested a 27-volt battery that controlled what should have been an automatic trigger of the blind shear rams moments after the accident, and found it had just 7 volts of charge in June and 0.7 volts of charge in September.

Based on that, Kenney [lead forensic investigator] and Thompson concluded the automatic trigger of the shear rams probably failed, meaning it likely took until two days after the accident for remote-controlled submarines to activate the rams. But they also said it was possible that a backup control pod worked in the minutes after the blowout and succeeded in triggering the blind shear rams.

That is an important distinction because it could mean that rig-owner Transocean didn't properly maintain the BOP and that might have contributed to the accident. Transocean witnesses who were scheduled to testify Tuesday have refused to show up and could not be compelled to do so because they live out of the area, where the federal subpoenas served against them from New Orleans have no power.

Bob Cavnar (eljefebob), industry expert and author of Disaster on the Horizon accurately sums up the mess in which we now find ourselves.

Back to Square One? BOP Investigator Admits to Key Error in Report - The Daily Hurricane

I'm afraid that this testimony has the effect of the ol' one step forward and two steps back.  Cameron has revealed critical mistakes in the DNV study, and at least one government agency, the Chemical Safety Board, has implied that more study is needed before we will really know what happened.  Yet, with all these huge question marks, we are still going back to work in the deepwater.  Was it design? Poor maintenance? Merely a "black swan"?  These are critical questions that have not been answered and workers' lives and the environment hang in the balance.

Just a note:  The raging apathy and silence from the media on this issue is deafening.  The hearings are not being live streamed by anyone, including C Span, and the only news outlets covering what are probably the most important of these critical hearings is the Times-Picayune out of New Orleans and my pals over at the Houston Chronicle's Fuel Fix.  All else is dead silence. I'm amazed.

One of the deepwater wells in the Gulf that was recently permitted with much fanfare has now been ordered shut down by the BOEMRE. It suffered a big oopsie with it's freestanding riser system. That would be the very same type of freestanding riser system that BOEMRE approved as being just hunk-dory for containing future oil spills.

More Bad News: BOEMRE Halts Floating Facility Startup Due to Equipment Failure - The Daily Hurricane Click through for a good graphic of the freestanding riser system.

You're probably wondering why I'm writing about this seemingly obscure failure and subsequent work stoppage on the Petrobras FPSO facility, and why you should care.  Here's why you should care:  freestanding risers are the backbone of the new subsea well containment systems that have been approved by the BOEMRE which are now required to get a deepwater drilling permit.  The failure of a key component in freestanding riser technology raises the question about the reliability of the free standing risers in the well containment systems that are staged for rapid deployment in the event of another subsea well blowout.  Having rushed the well containment systems into service so new drilling permits could be issued, one wonders whether they have been appropriately tested for durability and reliability.  Like subsea wellheads, they are installed below the surface and are not visible except through the lens of an ROV camera.  As the industry steps further and further out into deepwater, reliable riser systems will become key components in protecting the environment and making these projects economical.

As expected, the Department of the Interior sees no need to curb its enthusiasm for issuing deepwater drilling permits despite the fact that BOPs and containments systems fall short of being effective in handling spills.

Interior Department will seek continual improvements in blowout preventers

WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department will continue to seek improvements in blow-out preventers, but it does not appear that the latest findings about the failure of the BOP on the Deepwater Horizon well will slow the department's return to permitting deepwater drilling.
After the release of the forensic analysis of the Deepwater Horizon BOP, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, wrote Interior asking whether the department would be halting permitting activities until it has a chance to review all blowout preventers now deployed in U.S. waters.

Interior has approved eight deepwater well permits since Feb. 17, noting that the industry has now demonstrated its capacity to handle subsea blowouts and spills. There has been no indication that the recent report on the Deepwater Horizon BOP will interrupt the department's issuance of new permits. They have not yet responded to Markey's letter.

On the conference call, Salazar said, "we've had a great round of meetings here in Mexico," and that both the United States and Mexico, which together control about 95 percent of the Gulf, were committed to pressing ahead with deepwater drilling.

Internal BP emails from one of BP's managers described work on the Macondo as "paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos." Aside from personal frictions there was general dissatisfaction with a reorganization which led to an inexperienced engineering team.

BP emails indicate strain before Gulf oil spill

In a March 14, 2010, email, David Sims, a BP engineering team leader working on the Macondo project from BP offices in West Houson, responded to an accusation by well team leader John Guide that Sims wasn't listening during a conference call.

Sims, who had been Guide's peer in the organization before a recent promotion, outlined the reasons for one of his decisions, then berated Guide for his management style.

"You seem to love being the victim. Everything is someone else's fault," Sims wrote. "You criticize nearly everything we do on the rig but don't seem to realize that you are responsible for every(thing) we do on the rig,"
On April 17, just three days before the blast, Guide wrote to Sims about the stress the operations team Guide managed was feeling over actions by the engineering team that planned the work carried out on the rig.
"David, over the past four days there has been so many last minute changes to the operation that the WSL (Well Site Leaders) have finally come to their wits' end," Guide wrote. "The quote is 'flying by the seat of our pants.' "
The well was originally budgeted at $96 million, but by the time of the blowout BP had spent close to $142 million and was at least 38 days behind schedule. Engineers charged with planning later steps in the drilling and completion of the well were changing them regularly as new issues came up, according to the emails. Guide wrote that work on the well was requiring daily visits from shore-based personnel.

"We have made a special boat or helicopter run everyday," Guide continued. "Everybody wants to do the right thing, but, this huge level of paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos... The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner."
John Sprague, a drilling engineer manager who oversaw all of BP's Gulf of Mexico operations, was critical of the restructuring in an April 8 email to a group of BP engineers.

But Sprague conceded one of the likely reasons behind it.
"Granted our Engineering teams are inexperienced," he wrote.

Transocean executives have at last been shamed into donating the bonuses they received for the company's "safety" record which included the deaths of eleven of their workers.

Transocean executives giving up safety bonuses

Executives at the offshore drilling contractor at the center of last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill are donating bonuses they got for the company's safety record last year.
CEO Steven Newman and four other executives are now donating bonuses worth more than $250,000 to a fund set up by Transocean for the victims' families.

Plaintiff's attorneys added an amended complaint asserting that dispersant caused injuries to their clients. It will be interesting to see if they will be able to shine some light on this controversial topic during the course of the legal process. Damages would be triple if they can prove the companies liable under civil RICO laws so I think we can expect the attorneys to pursue this angle aggressively.

Process of combining allegations against BP in the wake of last year's oil spill begins with court filings

Attorneys representing businesses, fishermen and residents claiming to be physically or financially injured by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill filed two documents in federal court in New Orleans this week laying out key pieces of their legal strategy, including charges that BP and drilling contractor Transocean conspired to defraud the Minerals Management Service concerning the safety of drilling such a deep well, and that their clients were injured by the use of dispersants.
The criminal conspiracy allegation is contained in a case statement that lays out the plaintiff's arguments that BP and Transocean violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as the RICO Act, through wire and mail fraud stemming from their applications for permits for the Deepwater Horizon to drill BP's Macondo well.
"The scheme to defraud involves misrepresentations and omissions to the regulators regarding the ability of BP and its subcontractor, Transocean, both to prevent and contain oil spills," the case statement said. "BP and Transocean's fraudulent scheme has not just involved the Macondo well offshore drilling project that utilized the Deepwater Horizon, but has also involved other well sites in the Gulf of Mexico and indeed around the world."
"Subject to discovery of information in the hands of the defendant, plaintiffs may determine that certain dishonest MMS employees participated and conspired to participate in overt acts in furtherance of the pattern of racketeering activity ...," the paper said.
The attorneys also filed an amended version of the lawsuit's supporting complaint that focuses on alleged injuries caused by the use of dispersants "in an ill-conceived effort to contain and to clean up the spill..."

The complaint contends that BP and companies hired by BP to clean up the oil often prohibited oil-spill workers and those on "vessels of opportunity" from using protective clothing and equipment, unless they were working in the immediate area around the Macondo well.

BP thinks that a maximum of $5 million in fines is fair. No one could ever accuse BP being lacking in chutzpah.

BP asks that fine not be based on total of Gulf spill

BP says the U.S. government should calculate any criminal fines related for last year's Gulf oil spill based on how many days the Macondo well flowed, not on how many barrels of crude leaked.

In court filings Tuesday, the oil giant responded to a lawsuit filed in December by the Department of Justice that seeks civil environmental penalties based on an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil that spilled into the Gulf after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers.
BP said in the court filings it was not willfully negligent and that federal officials should use a different method for assessing fines under the Clean Water Act — levying a fixed fine for every day the well flowed. That fine is $32,500 per day.

Using the daily figure fines could run from $2.8 million to $4.9 million, depending on whether one uses the date the well was capped or permanently sealed. The per-barrel figure could lead to fines ranging from $4.1 billion to more than $20 billion.

Mac McClelland of Mother Jones has not forgotten the Gulf. Tarballs are still washing ashore regularly and the press is still being denied access to public areas by BP security.

BP Still Doesn't Want You to See Its Tarballs

Lots has changed on Elmer's Island. Nearly a year after the great oilpocalypse of 2010, this Louisiana wildlife refuge about 100 miles south of New Orleans isn't crawling with teams of cleanup workers raking big black pools of crude off the sand; there's no cleanup machinery or equipment; the only immediately visible remnants of the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill are the occasional tarballs, big as a kid's head, that wash onto the shore.

Not that I can just waltz onto this public beach to see all that—not everything has changed. Like some lame iteration of Groundhog Day, the hundredth time I try to pull onto the Elmer's Island access road from Highway 1 in southern Louisiana—some 200 days after the last time I tried it—I am, once again, stopped. Last year, it was cops blocking the road. Now it's private security hired by BP.

"You have to get permission from central command to come on here, and then you'll probably have to be escorted by an official," the security guard tells me.

"How hard is it to get permission?"

"Usually pretty hard." She says a local reporter couldn't get through recently.

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!

Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:

4-04-11 05:44 PM Gulf Watchers Monday-BP Could be Back in Gulf Soon- BP Catastrophe AUV #497 shanesnana
4-03-11 12:06 PM Gulf Watchers Sunday - A Bonus for Death - BP Catastrophe AUV #496 Lorinda Pike
4-01-11 06:13 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party: Déjà Vu edition -- again BlackSheep1
4-01-11 08:25 AM Gulf Watchers Friday - They Want It All and They Want It Now - BP Catastrophe AUV #495+ Lorinda Pike
The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

Again, to keep bandwidth down, please do not post images or videos.
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