Even Fewer Deepwater Horizon Inspections Than MMS Claimed Earlier

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Ooh, this gets uglier and uglier the harder one looks at this. From the Associated Press via ABC (hat tip reader Glenn Stehle):

The federal agency responsible for ensuring that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was operating safely before it exploded last month fell well short of its own policy that inspections be done at least once per month, an Associated Press investigation shows.

Since January 2005, the federal Minerals Management Service conducted at least 16 fewer inspections aboard the Deepwater Horizon than it should have under the policy, a dramatic fall from the frequency of prior years….

The inspection gaps and poor recordkeeping are the latest in a series of questions raised about the agency’s oversight of the offshore oil drilling industry…

Earlier AP investigations have shown that the doomed rig was allowed to operate without safety documentation required by MMS regulations for the exact disaster scenario that occurred; that the cutoff valve which failed has repeatedly broken down at other wells in the years since regulators weakened testing requirements; and that regulation is so lax that some key safety aspects on rigs are decided almost entirely by the companies doing the work…..

MMS officials offered a changing series of numbers….Even using the more favorable numbers for the most recent 64 months, 25 percent of monthly inspections were not performed.

Read the full story here.

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  1. bob

    There was also mention in another MSM story about BP’s resistance to placing any kind of measurement equipment near the well for the purpose of determining how much oil is actually being spilled.

    I can’t remember the exact quote, or find the story, but it was something along the lines of “our number one concern is stopping the oil.”

    Our number two concern is obfuscation.

    This looks like an edited version of the story I mentioned-


    1. bob

      From – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/us/16oil.html?hp

      “BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

      “The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.” “

      1. Doug Terpstra

        ‘”It’s not relevant to the response effort”‘

        Breathtaking! Translation: “knowing the scope of the problem, measuring the actual rate of flow, is not relevant to stopping it.” This is self-evident self-incrimination. But the true scale of the disaster will come out eventually, so it forces the question: is BP now conspiring to cover up evidence of something worse than ‘mere’ criminal negligence?

  2. psychohistorian

    At what point does one start to wonder if this was a catastrophe on purpose?

    If we can start wars without reason, why not an environmental catastrophe?

    Will any go to jail for this catastrophe?

    1. mey

      If you think it was done on purpose, then you need to ask who benefits financially from it.

    2. Ray Duray

      Re: “At what point does one start to wonder if this was a catastrophe on purpose?”

      At no point. There’s abundant evidence available that the accident was the result of a series of small bad decisions made on the rig and in BP HQ in Houston. The “Macondo” strike was already kicking about 2 to 3 weeks before the explosion. The operators knew that they had a significant chance for a blowout weeks before the explosion and fire. There is simply too much evidence of malfeasance, poor decision making and careless disregard for risk for there to be any chance whatsoever that anyone perpetrated this catastrophe “on purpose”.

      The only people I’ve heard of pushing such a theory would be the likes of Rush Limbaugh who somehow “sees” the hand of environmentalists in an attempt to damage the reputation of the offshore oil industry. Gotta hand it to ol’ Rush. He’s getting dang creative on this one. But he’s also saying something patently insane. Too bad he can’t be taken off the air for spouting such sloppy thinking.

      Those who haven’t seen the CBS 60 Minutes segment might want to watch the online video. It’s actually some pretty darn good reporting. It’s clear from the account of the eyewitness interviewed that the well was mishandled for the sake of keeping costs down.


  3. Glen

    60 Minutes had a segment of the Deepwater:



    BP rep on rig overrules Transocean rep about pumping the mud out while the cement plug is curing which (according to expert) probably caused the blowout.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out since the $75M liability cap is tossed in the event of gross negligence or willful misconduct. Luckily BP has deep pockets.

    1. Glenn Stehle


      Thanks for the links. Very enlightening, and heartrending.

      I agree with just about everything put forth in the CBS story, but I think the problems started even before what Mr. Pelley is aware.

      After the sinking of the Titanic, even though myriad reasons for the Titanic’s sinking were identified, investigators found design flaws in the ship that contributed to the accident. I think the same will be found to be true with the Deepwater Horizon, that there were flaws in the well design which played a significant role in causing the accident.

      It sounds to me like BP has a corporate culture of doing things “on the cheap.” The original engineering design for this well was done to facilitate doing things as inexpensively as possible, and the end result was an accident that was waiting to happen.

      I lifted the following comment off a discussion board called Roughneckcity.com. I agree with its author, as I don’t see any explanation for the sequence of events that took place other than that there was a downhole blowout in progress, which started well before its effects reached the surface. It was BP’s poor engineering design, its scrimping on pipe and cement, which set the stage for the sequence of events that occurred on April 20.

      Here’s the comment. I’d just add that at the time Mr. Heard made his comment, he was under the impression that the negative test had passed, as this was the information that BP originally put out. It wasn’t until later, under questioning by the congressional committee investigating the accident, that the truth emerged, and it came to light that the negative test had failed.

      Comment by Les Heard on May 13, 2010 at 9:00am

      Are you in charge of any drilling operations? Your conclusions and proposals are surprising to say the least (ie. cork proposal). Please read all of the previous comments and original blog. No the production casing did not lift off the wellhead and no there is no liner involved with this blowout. The well schematic provided in the Senate hearings indicates that a full two-step (ie. 7″ x 9-5/8″), production string was run. If the float equipment didn’t give up (which it rarely does), then the next conclusion is that gas migrated up those thousands of feet behind the backside of the production casing (yes – right past that 51 bbl cement job), and ended up between the 9-5/8″ and 16″ casings directly beneath the wellhead. Then the next logical conclusion is that either the casing hanger seals (wellhead seals), failed or a production casing connection failed – it doesn’t matter which, the end result is the same.

      The reason a previous negative test held pressure is probably because the gas pressure in the annulus between the 9-5/8″ and the 16″ casings had not built up to it’s maximum yet and by the time the seawater displacement took place it was significantly higher than it was when first tested. Since there are casings & liners down to 17,168 ft the gas bubble for the most part was between the production casing and various other casings (ie. no weak formations to break down while the gas bubble was rising), and the pressure may have been quite high underneath the wellhead. Actually we are all taught in BOP school that if the bubble is not allowed to expand – it will bring bottom hole pressure to the surface.

      The most surprising fact is that BP’s well plan was (1) submitted by “competent” drilling engineers & (2) approved by the MMS! One can easily see that the casing and cementing plan was a trap that was easily set by the simple failure of a primary cement job. Unbelievable that no one in BP or the MMS didn’t see the 100% dependence of the casing plan on a relatively small cement job. Where was their second barrier? The path from the open hole producing interval to the annulus of the bottom liner x production casing is relatively short and of small volume. Once a gas bubble got into that annulus – it had an excellent path right to the wellhead.

      The fact that the rig crews missed the huge pit gains is also unbelievable but you have to understand BP’s culture. I worked for them for 10 years so I speak from experience. They will spend more time and energy worrying about a mashed finger than their basic well plan. I’m not trying to downplay personnel safety but you would have to be on a BP rig for a few days to appreciate the number and length of safety meetings that are held. The rig crews trust the BP supervisors and engineers to worry about the well plan and they will worry about keeping their fingers out of pinch points. The rig crews (along with BP and the MMS), accepted the well plan as safe when it obviously wasn’t. When the engineers assured the rig crews that the negative test proved the well was safe to displace – they didn’t really worry about measuring every barrel of mud out for every barrel of seawater pumped in. Their eyes glazed over and they all overlooked the #1 cardinal rule of well control which is to maintain bottom hole pressure and to do that you must closely monitor “bbl in – bbl out” rates and volumes.

      Actually if you think through it – successful closing of the BOP’s and stopping the flow up the riser probably would have resulted in the pressure building up enough to breach of all the casing strings under the wellhead and end up with a blow out in the mudline around the well. Much more difficult to manage than the current situation!

      The sad fact is that the more that is revealed about the BP well design and their lack of proper well control procedures – the more it will become unbelievable that this terrible thing started when some engineer devised this well plan (without a deep positive seal in the annulus), and got it approved. I hate to think there are other wells out there that also have this well design which has a huge problem if the primary cement job isn’t 100% effective. I there are – those wells need to be monitored very closely.

      I very much doubt that this casing and cementing design will ever be repeated. Whey didn’t they run a liner and tie it back? I’m sure that BP conducted a “time and motion study” and came up with a few hours savings in rig time and materials cost (ie. well design and operations being driven by economics rather than solid, fail-safe, proven oilfield techniques).

      Translation: MBA’s running the oilfield rather than BSPE’s………….

      “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Albert Einstein


      1. jdmckay

        Comment by Les Heard on May 13, 2010 at 9:00am

        Wow… the more we hear of operational details, the worse it looks. Very disheartening and frightening.

        Translation: MBA’s running the oilfield rather than BSPE’s………….

        That’s my experience across multiple industry.

        If it was up to me, these guys would get treatment under Bush’s terrorist legal circumnavigations: eg. environmental enemy combatants…
        * throw ’em in Gitmo
        * waterboard ’em ’till they talk
        * no due process, tried by fixed military commissions.
        … and make a hard example: many years in prison, and let everyone everywhere know that corp. malfeasance gets prison time, period.


      2. Doug Terpstra

        Shortsighted MBAs, driving over engineers with their clever design decisions, arguably bankrupted GM. One notorious result, among many, was peeling paint on many models resulting from omitting spray primers.

    2. ApacheTrout

      Glen – I think we should be watching BP’s financial shuffling very carefully these days, especially any increase in dividends that will move money from the company to the shareholders where it cannot be touched.

  4. Bill

    BP Whistleblower

    And it looks like the spill is going to take a nice Keys vacation in a week or so – This whole event is being obfuscated by every political , corporate figure at every level . Spirit of Liars follows their father .

    Matthew 13:38-39
    “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

    So , then , whom do most of these people serve ?

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill trajectory hindcast/forecast based on West Florida Shelf ROMS

    1. Skippy

      Thanks, Bob and Bill for the links.

      Bill the article from FDL is representative, of most, of the so called testing done in the name of public safety these days. As I’ve said before “you just don’t want to be around when it happens”.

      Skippy…In my early days, the first thing that was shown to a prospective up and comer, was how to fudge reports. The aboves always thinks this approach is more desriable than proper training and supervision in the long run. Cut to the bone work and when it goes boom, close up shop or sell to someone else aka suckers (SEE mining in america/reclamation duties).

      PS…really…they just like to tell the guys at the CLUB how smart they are….pathology’s and all..can’t help them selves really.

      1. HtG

        Roger that Skippy. Working in the industry, I saw plenty of work not done to the actual contract, plenty of risks taken to save time(which truly is money when parts and people are hired daily). If the 60 minutes story that the BOP was known to be damaged, it won’t surprise me one bit. I left the industry after some egregious corruptions of survey data, but will always keep in mind how consumers just have no regard for the pressures workers in the industry face. You want cheap oil and the govt out of your business? Enjoy.

    2. Glenn Stehle


      Thanks for the link.

      I’d just caution against going down the “blame-the-government” road too far. Going too far down that path absolves BP of its share of blame. Also, you can bet your last nickel that BP was lobbying night and day to minimize if not entirely do away with MMS oversight, so the ultimate blame here lies squarely at BP’s feet.

      During the congressional hearings last week a BOP test report was released. This test was done on 10 February and reveals the configuration of the blowout preventer stack.

      I was really quite surprised to learn that there were only two ram-type preventers installed, which allowed space for only one set of shear rams to be installed. It appears that normally there would be three ram-type blowout preventers installed, which would allow for two sets of shear rams. But evidently BP or Transocean had obtained an exemption—-see comment “DO NOT FUNCTIONAS PER EXEMPTION” on page 3 of test document—-which allowed them to not have a second set of shear rams. I assume this “exemption” was obtained from MMS.

      From the test report we can see there were two annular blowout preventers installed, two sets of pipe rams, one set of shear rams, and one set of test rams.

      This test report makes BP’s claims that it was unaware that one set of rams had been replaced by test rams disingenuous, to say the least, because here it is in a 10 Feb report, staring them in the face.

      The lower annular was tested to 3950 psi and the upper annular to 5200 psi.

      The middle pipe rams were tested to 7150 psi and the upper pipe rams to 7100 psi.

      The shear rams were not tested. That would be expensive and time consuming as it would require pulling the bit above the blowout preventer.

      I find it incomprehensible that the blowout preventer was tested only to a maximum of 7150 psi on a well whose bottomhole pressure was in excess of 13,000 psi. Whose decision was that?

      Here’s the test report:

      1. Richard Kline

        So Glenn, I appreciate your detailed follow-up on the mechanics of this gob-up. Nice to have expertise deployed for the common good.

        It seems clear that MMS simply abdicated any regulatory oversight to BP. If the company said it was good, that was enough for MMS, regardless of what ‘it’ was. Which takes us back to the fact that BP is more and more clearly the culprit here, from beginning to end. Let’s see:

        –Inadequate, on-the-cheap well plan

        –No adjustment of the drill plan in view of the continual gas kicks

        –Single barrier plug badly sited: Seal integrity is totally dependent upon _one_ barrier

        –Cement not allowed to cure in single plug

        –Negative test failed, and known to have failed, clearly indicating that the single barrier to seal integrity was compromised

        –Contractors brought in to sign off on the negative test not only refuse to do so but directly advised killing the well immediately; ignored by BP operation management

        –Rig operator staff protests mud displacement due to inadequate cure time for cement ceal; ignored by BP operation management

        To which we can no add:

        –Inadequate blowout preventer design, with one shear ram.

        –Blowout preventer tested only to _half_ the bottom pressue already demonstrated in a kicking well.

        This wasn’t an accident waiting to happen, it was an accident BOUND to happen. Any one of these faults might be human cussedness/error. Taken together, they clearly seem well over the threshold of gross negligence. While multiple parties had a hand in this, the Blob that is about to eat Florida is the responsibility and liability of BP first and foremost in my view.

  5. BDBlue

    Wonder what was going on with the MMS budget during this timeframe? While it may be that lower ranked folks in the office just decided not to inspect, more likely, IMO, is that the agency was resource strapped – either because Congress didn’t want it inspecting or the Executive didn’t want it inspecting or, more likely, both. There’s been an idea in Government that you can “do more, with less” for thirty years. There are limits to how much you can do with less and we went through those barriers about ten years ago, IMO. And now we’re reaping the results – fewer food inspections, OSHA inspections, mine inspections, oil rig inspections.

    I have no doubt that MMS has failed. I strongly suspect, however, that it was set up to fail by an Executive branch and Congress that didn’t want it to do anything that would adversely affect their corporate owners.

  6. Pancho

    The interview with rig electronics worker Mike Williams on “60 Minutes” make it clear that the BP decision makers should be prosecuted with at least 11 counts of negligent homicide.

    They were less concerned with safety than with stock prices.

    They were less concerned with competence than they were with cost-cutting.

  7. Doc Holiday

    BP and EPA are making a bad situation worse!! This is the stuff they are dumping in the Gulf….

    2-Butoxyethanol is frequently found in popular cleaning products. It is difficult for consumers to know whether their favorite cleaner contains the chemical because manufacturers are not required to list it on the label.[4][5]

    This compound is on California’s list of hazardous substances,[6] though it was removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎’s list of hazardous air pollutants in 1994

  8. M. Csupak

    BP Documents should be seased and their decisionmakers should be arrested by the military and kept in house arrest. There where NO efforts FIRST to capture the oil at the well head, THEN plug the leak. Boyscouts could have done a better job!! What is the hidden agenda????
    It is time for some heavy handed cleanup of the busn. world by President Obama or the greed and stupidity will distroy us all. A careing Canadian; Miki

  9. Jerry Bowen, P.E.

    I’m a 32-year registered petroleum (drilling) engineer. Have watched BP and other major operators continually lose their best engineering talent, to save a few dollars, and rely on in-house trained non-petroleum engineers instead. They do this while speaking about maximizing safety and environmental performance out of the other side of the mouth. Some majors even refuse to hire petroleum engineers because they tend to question the status quo and would hire civil or mechanical with no prior knowledge of the business. Additionally, we’ve all heard about petroleum engineers becoming waiters when energy prices drop, and thousands of high school graduates avoided petroleum engineering as an option. While there are many good folks at BP, there are also lots of in-house trained ‘experts’ who became ‘experts’ simply due to longevity. Most of these in-house experts could not survive outside the BP organization, for instance with a fast-paced independent operator or a consulting firm, with genuine performance metrics. The end result is that major operators operate like a closed shop to some extent, they essentially brainwash their trainees to do what they’re told, and probably have a unique set of safety standards, in this case low standards have apparently been set by years of incorrect BP management actions. In this particular well control event, all the following mistakes/errors must have occurred: (1) a poorly designed well, including a built in leak path, a minimal primary cement job, a failure to recognize and mitigate the risk of high trapped pressure, combined with (2) operational shortcuts including, a decision to go forward with known BOP deficiencies, a weak T&A plan which was made weaker (changed on-the-fly) with the decision to displace the riser (under-balance the well) before placing or testing the final cement plug, no adequate MOC process, and serious warnings were ignored in the last hours including continuing the displacement after anomalies were observed, and resuming circulating after flow was observed. This last mistake is potentially criminal in my view.

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