6 Jan 2011

BP ‘short cuts’ responsible for ‘avoidable’ oil spill

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could have been avoided and was partly caused by short cuts and cost-cutting measures by BP and other companies, a scathing inquiry finds.

A US Presidential Commission blamed “systemic” industry failures for last April’s rig explosion which killed 11 people and caused one of the worst oil spills in history – also warning that without major reform, they would likely recur.

BP, Halliburton and Transocean, the three key companies involved with the Macondo well, made individual decisions that increased risks of a blow-out, but saved significant time or money, the report said.

“Most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure – a failure of management,” it said.

“Better management by BP, Halliburton and Transocean would almost have certainly prevented the blow-out.”

The full story of the BP oil spill – special report

The April 20 blast at the drill rig leaked millions of gallons of oil from the well into the sea before finally being capped in July.

It has cost BP billions of pounds in clean-up costs and compensation, and also led to the departure of its British chief executive Tony Hayward.

The Commission said: “Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blow-out clearly saved those companies significant time.

“BP did not have adequate controls in place to ensure that key decisions in the months leading up to the blow-out were safe or sound from an engineering perspective.”

“Most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure – a failure of management.” US Presidential Commission report

It added: “The blow-out was not the product of a series of abberational decisions made by a rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again.

“Rather, the root causes are systemic, and absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

President Barack Obama set up the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling in May to investigate the spill, and recommend changes to industry and government policy.

Their report found that mistakes and “failures to appreciate risk” compromised safeguards “until the blow-out was inevitable and, at the very end, uncontrollable”.

BP oil spill infographic.

BP’s “fundamental mistake” was failing to exercise proper caution over the job of sealing the well with cement, the commission said.

The report included an extract from an e-mail written by BP engineer Brett Cocales on April 16, just days before the disaster.

“But, who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine and we’ll get a good cement job,” Cocales wrote, after he disagreed with BP’s decision to use fewer centralisers than recommended.

Centralisers are used to centre the pipe to ensure a good cement job. The cement failed at the bottom of the Macondo well, allowing oil and gas to enter it, according to investigations.

Who Knows Who – BP connections

BP said the report, like its own investigation, found the accident was the result of multiple causes and involved multiple companies.

The firm added that it was working with regulators “to ensure the lessons learned from Macondo lead to improvements in operations and contractor services in deepwater drilling”.

Transocean, which owned the rig being leased by BP to perform the drilling, and Halliburton, the cement contractor on the well, both laid the blame on BP.


John Sauven, Greenpeace’s executive director, told Channel 4 News that he felt the major oil companies in the United States had still to learn lessons from the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

“The oil industry really has been complacent, they’ve lacked adequate procedures, they’ve had poor management, poor processes,” he said.

“Our real concern is – has the oil industry really woken up, or is it really just sleepwalking into another disaster?

“Because if we look at what’s happening today, the American Petroleum Institute has launched a big campaign to go into the Florida Keys, the Arctic – very sensitive environmental areas.”