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When President Obama decided to expand off-shore oil drilling, I wondered if he knew what kind of antics this industry has been up to.

While most people already know of the horrific environmental fall out that can occur, most people do not know that this industry is rife with fundamental failures, crazy corner cutting, all for that mighty dollar and the bottom line, in lieu of even basic common sense.

Case in point:

‘Last Resort’ Safety Device Failed in Fatal Drilling Incident
By Joe Carroll and Mark Chediak, Bloomberg, April 30, 2010

A 2-foot-long metal clamp that failed to cut a pipe on the ocean floor may have cost 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig their lives and cast a sprawling sheet of crude toward fisheries, wildlife sanctuaries and beaches.

All subsea oil wells are equipped with steel blades known as shear rams that are supposed to slash through the pipe at the top of the well during dangerous pressure surges when all other safety devices fail, said Ron Bohuslavicky, the senior well- control instructor at Well Control School in Houston.

The U.S. Coast Guard and BP Plc, which was using a Transocean Ltd. rig to drill the well that erupted on April 20, have been struggling to contain a gusher of crude that has been spewing from the seafloor for more than a week. A 2002 study commissioned by the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the agency that oversees the offshore oil industry, found that 50 percent of the shear rams tested failed to cut through pipe and halt the flow of oil.

"It’s a bad situation," said Bohuslavicky, who teaches employees from companies including BP and Transocean how to control blowouts. "The shear ram is the last resort when something like this happens, and if it had done its job then they probably wouldn’t have lost all those people and the rig."

Not sure which industry where 50% failure rate is acceptable, but in this case the failure will lead to lose of life and a huge ecological disaster.

During this suspension on off-shore drilling, President Obama should instruct the Department of the Interior to complete an investigation into all shear ram devices to assess our current exposure to future failures.

This report should be read before Congress:

Subject   Review of Shear Ram Capabilities
Performing Activity West Engineering Services
Principal Investigator Jeff Sattler
Contracting Agency Minerals Management Service
Date of Summary   September 28, 2004

The study discusses the following:

The Shear-Blind Ram test procedures contained in API Spec 16A

The testing procedures and acceptance criteria used to conduct the shear tests.

Additional pressures that should be considered for shearing pipe.

5 of 7 rigs successfully sheared pipe and sealed the well bore in shop tests (or 2 of 7 failed).

When operational considerations were accounted for, shearing success dropped to 3 out of 6.

50% failure rate is not acceptable.

Especially if Transocean and BP decided only to have one Blowout preventer (BOP) on this pipe:

BP's Deepwater Disaster: What Happened And Why?

Christopher Helman, Forbes, April 30, 2010

Another possibility--they tried to engage the BOP's shear ram (which is supposed to slice through the riser and seal off the hole) but there was something too big to shear. That could have been a solid steel joint between two sections of drill pipe. These joints come along about one foot in every 30 feet of pipe, so it would have been very unlucky for such a joint to be sitting right where the shear ram would try to cut--but possible.

Video shot by the robotic submarines (a.k.a. remote operated vehicles or ROVs) seems to indicate that oil is leaking from three spots in a pipe that is laying on the seafloor. The pipe would have to be a portion of the riser, which would have to still be attached to the BOP, but crimped and bent over. An uncuttable piece of joint lodged in the shear ram would perhaps explain why the ROVs haven't been able to subsequently engage the ram.

Yes, that would be unfortunate if there is only BOP. At 50% failure rate, there should have been at least two to cover the odds. Common sense would say four, since this could lead to ecological madness. Common Sense Prevailed, hattip to Gravedugger and Ban Nock in comments:

Each blowout preventer is configured for a given well. This one has five hydraulic rams. Some are designed to seal the well by clamping around the drill pipe, sealing the space between it and the casing. At least one of these has a variable bore, meaning it can be used with pipes of different diameters.

A ounce of prevention here will save tons upon tons of cure.

It's not like this is new.

U.S. report found failure of offshore rigs' blowout preventers common

By LES BLUMENTHAL - McClatchy Newspapers

Citing a Minerals Management Service report, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said there were 117 failures of blowout preventers during a two-year period in the late 1990s on the outer continental shelf of the United States.

"To find out the ultimate fail-safe weapon doesn't work is surprising," said Cantwell, who as chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee's oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee will play a role in any congressional investigation of the Gulf oil spill and the drilling rig explosion that caused it.

The unclassified version of the 1990 report said the failures involved 83 wells drilled by 26 rigs in depths from 1,300 feet to 6,560 feet.

A similar report released by the agency in 1997 found that between 1992 and 1996 there were 138 failures of blowout preventers on underwater wells being drilled off Brazil, Norway, Italy and Albania.

Both reports are highly technical. Classified versions of the reports included proprietary information that was redacted before the reports were released publicly.

But everyone involved in this project cut corners to save a buck. Every off-shore oil rig in American waters should be reviewed to see how many BOPs they have, and if they have a remote "acoustic" failsafe device.

If the almighty dollar and bottom line of Big Oil allows it.

Originally posted to RenderQT on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:52 AM PDT.

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