BP and Gulf of Mexico Well Blowout


“Fact, Fiction and Loose Lips”


What is the truth about possibly the greatest man made pollution event since the beginning of oil exploration?

Certain facts are easy to verify. For example the Valdez oil pollution event offshore Alaska was a catastrophic event, as were:

                        the Amoco “Cadiz” event offshore the Channel Islands

                        the “Torrey Canyon” event off the Seven Stones

                        the Ecxtoc event in the Gulf of Mexico

                        the onshore Leduc blowout in Alberta

                        the Piper Alpha incident in the North Sea

                        the P36 offshore Brazil


As was … as was … as was. We could identify many such disasters and draw the same conclusion, namely accidents happen and many of them are caused by human error.

Quite often the fall out of each accident is advanced by foolhardy statements, grandstanding and politicking, much of the rhetoric having been weakly researched and with a foundation as porous as the oil bearing structures which give up the world’s primary energy commodity, that of OIL.

Let’s Address a Few Facts

BP is one of the largest and most safety conscience companies in the oil business.  Their leadership over the past 100 years has enabled shareholders globally to benefit from the success of the company. Likewise, billions of dollars have been paid directly, or indirectly by the company by way of taxes ‐ the aggregate of which has enabled governments at home and abroad, to benefit their own countries by way of lower taxes, jobs, infrastructure, investments etc.

All of the companies engaged in the oil business are cautiously watching and learning just how BP will handle this terrible event.  They are unable to offer assistance because this is the FIRST event of this nature and there is no other company which can offer better help.  BP, like it or not, has the best of the best to perform the remedy.  Lessons will be learned and the fact is that the other companies will benefit for free, from what will cost BP billions of dollars.  Certain parties have suggested the use of the USA Corp of Engineers to perform the work, yes ‐ the same engineers who were involved with the much criticised work on the New Orleans levies and other projects throughout the USA.  This idea was tossed into touch at an early stage!

This all begs the question: why permit the exploration of hydrocarbons in such deep waters?

Fact ‐ Oil supplies onshore are running out and the untapped regions of the oceans deep, is where oil may still be found in quantities which are commercially viable.  However, these deep waters bring with them all the dangers of “frontier” drilling.  The U.S. Government Energy Department approves the drilling applications of each Energy company and are therefore, by association, partly responsible for the management of such drilling programmes.  Is it a fair statement to say that the country which has put a man on the moon cannot properly assess the risks involved with respect to offshore drilling?  The fact is YES ‐ of course they are capable of assessing the risks!

Fact ‐ After six weeks of spillage, the U.S. President states that he will “kick ass” – wow, what a disgraceful demonstration of a President assisting with a solution.  Grandstanding during such an event is deplorable and erodes confidence in his actions in the eyes of the public who know the truth.  President Obama, however, needs to regain some of his lost credibility, before the U.S. Mid Term Elections in the Autumn!

Fact ‐ A relief well will take the same time, or more time to drill than the original well.  Also, the drilling of a relief well will require careful steerage of the drill bit to target a hole which is some eight inches in diameter and some three miles down.  The technology is there but the speed of drilling cannot and should not be compromised.  Two relief wells are being drilled in the hope that at least one will enter the original well bore.  Once in the well bore, heavy kill mud may be pumped into the hole and at that time there is a good chance that the formation pressures may be counter-balanced by kill mud and eventually overbalanced to create a stable well and stop the leakage of oil.

Fact ‐ A lifeboat engine could not be started and this initiated fear in the minds of those crews inside.  How is it that a simple lifeboat engine cannot be started by any one of the crew?  This is evidence of poor training/maintenance and is not acceptable.  After all it is now 2010.

Let’s discuss Fiction

Fiction BP responded poorly – No, this is not the case.  The fact is that they engaged in drilling a relief well within twelve days.  This time period is most likely well in advance of the Drilling Permit requirement.  The fact is that the response was as good as it could be.  Could we make it even better in the future; the answer is YES.

Fiction the BOP failed to operate – Remember the motto of loose lips?  Remember “loose lips sink ships”.  Houston based Cameron owns the manufacturer of the BOP (Blow Out Preventers) and they are leaders in their field.  They have extremely competent people and produce very reliable equipment.  Like every mechanical unit, maintenance is the key to proper and safe use.  Offshore BOP units are function tested and pressure tested at a frequency agreed to by the regulator responsible for the lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico. A frequency of two weeks is common.  Could this frequency be increased?  Again, the answer is YES.

Fiction ‐ There have been rumours that perhaps the space-out of the drill pipe was in error.  This is very possible as each tool joint is some 28 feet apart and this measurement versus depth of water represents one half percent as a margin of error.  Given this fact, the possibility for measurement to be in error is HIGH.  Can this issue be addressed; YES.

Cameron will eventually recover the BOP and the evidence will most likely reveal that the shear rams located a tool joint, which is extremely difficult to sever. Let us wait and see the facts when it is possible to do so.  Stopping “armchair quarterbacking” would be a wise move at this juncture.

The Real Questions

Why did the cement plugs fail?  Cement plugging is not new technology and the plugs have no bearing to water depth.  Why was the producing formation not sealed behind casing (7 inch liner)?  Why did the BOP not function properly?

All these things shall be confirmed in due course.

Loose lips

We have heard on the street that the driller was not certified in well control, yet he was the first important domino in the chain to control the well.  Fact is that the Deepwater Horizon rig is a sophisticated drilling unit and the crews offshore should be the best in the industry.  If this is not the case, shame on behalf of Transocean and BP and the J/V operators for not auditing the credentials of the people engaged in this frontier exploration theatre.

There is also the story on the street that a subcontractor requested a helicopter in order to vacate the rig due to the nature of operations being dangerous!  The subcontractor supposedly organised a helicopter themselves and did indeed leave the rig.  If, we emphasise IF, this story has substance, again shame on the Joint Venture parties for employing such cavalier managerial staff; staff with egos have no place in the frontiers.


We can and will reach accurate conclusions only when the well is capped and the BOP is retrieved and stripped down.  Unfortunately, this will not happen until August at the earliest and meanwhile we will have to suffer more foolish statements and watch the grandstanding of politicians but, hopefully, no more weak statements from the President of the U.S.

At least the subject of the failed banks and the fiasco of U.S. foreign policy will take a back seat to the BP problem for now.  As long as we want to enjoy the benefits of the internal combustion engine we need to take it all in and jointly accept globally that we, MANKIND, are responsible for this event.  Instead of engaging in verbal diarrhoea, we need to engage in positive rhetoric to promote success and seek the solution.  We shall learn from this event and we will be better enabled for the next one.  For surely there will be another event; it is not if but when!


Author: Capt Terry Robinson MM, MSA, CIP Regional Director (Abu Dhabi) for Global Marine & Energy Loss Adjusters LLC

GMELA offers adjusting and technical marine expertise to the Energy, Marine and Alternative Energy industries both onshore and offshore.