Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spill Panel Says Rig Culture Failed on Safety

WASHINGTON—A federal panel probing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Tuesday put the spotlight on the safety culture at companies drilling the well, seeking to move beyond findings a day earlier that rig workers didn't consciously put costs ahead of safety.
"The problem here is that there was a culture that did not promote safety and that culture failed," said Bob Graham, co-chairman of the panel created by U.S. President Barack Obama. "Leaders did not take serious risks seriously enough; did not identify a risk that proved to be a failure."
William Reilly, the other co-chairman, said that "BPHalliburton and Transocean are major respected companies operating throughout the Gulf and the evidence is they are in need of top-to-bottom reform." He said that "we know a safety culture must be led from the top, and permeate a company."
The comments came one day after the panel's chief investigator, Fred Bartlit, said he found no evidence that individual workers made conscious choices to put costs ahead of safety. His emphasis left an impression among people such as Ronnie Penton, a lawyer representing some workers on the rig, that the commission was not focused enough on probing the root causes of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"The investigators have to want to investigate whether safety was sacrificed for money and time," Mr. Penton told reporters on the sidelines of a second day of spill commission hearings. While the investigators "did a great job" laying out some basic facts, "we're looking at the operations--we're not looking at the root cause."
Some possible root causes were the subject of Tuesday's commission hearings. On Tuesday, Steve Lewis, a drilling engineer for Seldovia Marine Services who has reviewed evidence related to the BP oil spill, said one reason that rig workers may have missed red flags is that the well was designed as an exploration well with only the possibility of producing oil—meaning that the primary focus was on exploration. When workers shifted to developing a production well after oil was discovered, BP may have had to rush to put new plans in place.
"That detail was left unattended to probably due to the lack of availability of mental resources—engineering time—until it became apparent that it was going to happen," Mr. Lewis said. "Then there was what I would have to describe as scrambling to catch up on that design."
He said the evidence is a lack of detail in the company's plans for wrapping up work on the well—known as abandoning a well. There were a series of changes in procedure as workers sought to temporarily plug the well before production occurred, sparking confusion and argument aboard the rig on the day of the disaster.
"There was no real detail of abandonment in the initial plans," he said. The final plans were "totally deficient" in providing guidance and simply ordered workers to "accomplish these major steps," he said. "That's totally inadequate," he said, attributing the problems to a "lack of command and control."
A BP spokeswoman wasn't immediately available to comment.
This Article is from the Wallstreet Journal

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