12.5.2010 “Macondo was an avoidable accident”

The headline says it all.  That was one of the main points delivered on Thursday/Friday at Meeting #6 of the US National Oil Spill Commission. This was the last meeting of the year, and the final public installment before the panel delivers its much-anticipated report on the BP Disaster (slated to be released on January 11).  The most interesting take-home messages from this meeting are as follows–quotes taken from presentation slides from Meeting #6.

  • Skewed communication lines between BP, Halliburton, and Tranocean, as well as “muddled lines of authority” and poor transfer of knowledge between BP and its subcontractors led to most of the mistakes and oversight which led to the Macondo well blowout.  Key decisions happened “without formal risk analysis or internal expert review…individuals made critical decisions without fully appreciating their context or importance”.  In addition, “BP safety lapses appear to be chronic; its systems safety engineering and safety culture still need improvement.”  But Halliburton and Transocean don’t have a clean slate either–Halliburton’s faulty cement had previously been implicated in the Montara blowout off Australia in 2009, and Transocean apparently has a “fundamental lack of hazard awareness” in its North American operations, amonsgt other complaints of staff bullying/harassment from the UK Health & Safety Executive.

  • BP’s estimated total cost from the Deepwater Horizon disaster will total about $40 billion dollars.  The staff report notes that we are “lucky” that such a rich company spilled the oil, since a smaller company would have just declared bankruptcy long ago.  However:

…under the current regime: 1) the liability cap creates little incentive for offshore drillers to take actions to mitigate the risk of spills; 2) if there is another spill of the magnitude of the BP spill significant portion of the injuries caused to individuals and natural resources could go uncompensated, or the taxpayer will bear the burden of compensating victims.

  • That brings me to the next main point–no one was prepared for a spill of this magnitude, despite spill contingency plans that were in place (ironically, the South was apparently more prepared for hurricane contingenies, which is a bit worrying when you think about Katrina…).  State and Local officials were not fully involved in contingency planning, so its not surprising that they were a bit clueless when the shit hit the fan.
  • “The federal government had not adequately planned for the use of dispersants to address a large and sustained oil spill, and adequate research on dispersants did not exist.  Officials were forced to make decisions about dispersant use without important information or the time to gather such information.”.  ‘Nuff said!
  • Before the BP spill, the only containment options for a large spill were a) Blowout preventer or b) Relief well.  I think this point cannot be drilled in enough–Blowout preventers DO fail, apparently, and relief wells that take 3 months to drill are not exactly a quick fix to a disaster.

And my favourite staff reccomendation from Meeting #6:

Funding for scientists should be provided to promote sustained independent and coordinated scientific research of oil spill impacts during emergency responses.

Damn right.

In other news,  you should stay tuned this week for Alvin’s last stand (until 2012, that is, after the ageing sub undergoes a complete refit).  Alvin will be searching for oil on the Gulf seabed, with live blog, video, and picture updates from the Wood’s hole team to be posted during the Dec 6-14th expedition.

The White House is planning to serve a plentiful cornucopia of Gulf Seafood at all its holiday parties, to support the industry and ease the nation’s continuing fears over food safety.  Ok, White House diners, YOU can tell me how it is, I’ll believe you when you say its delicious but I still personally would prefer more data before I put anything from the Gulf near my digestive tract.  One cigarette won’t kill you, but those carcinogens sure aren’t good for your body.

And finally, for your perusal NPR has a great story linking the similar human psychological scars between the BP and Exxon Valdez spills.

Holly Bik (160 Posts)

I am a computational biologist at the University of California, Riverside. My research uses DNA sequencing and genomics to study microbial eukaryotes (yeah, nematodes!) in marine ecosystems, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. I can neither confirm nor deny that I like Unix more than I like going to sea.

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