The recently published National Commission Report to the President of the United States of America (11th January 2011) and BP’s own earlier Accident Investigation Report dated 8th September 2010 have focused almost entirely on the failings of equipment and processes on the drilldeck of the Deepwater Horizon, on the seafloor BOP and associated equipment and on the errors and mistakes made in drilling and cementing up of the close to completed well.
The fact is that BP were drilling at Macondo MC 252 in an area of well known and documented geological hazards (known in the industry as “Geohazards”). At Macondo these included such features as extensive beds of frozen gas (or methane hydrates) and a number of layers of artesian overpressured sands where the interstitial natural water pressures could cause casing collapse due to disturbance of those sands. This process is known as “liquefaction”, also known in the trade as “shallow water flows” [SWF]. The presence of gas hydrates and shallow water flows in this Mississippi canyon shelf edge zone is very well documented by the MMS, BP and other operators. As if that were not enough, having had some nasty failures at the MC 252 location, BP (not Transocean or Halliburton or Cameron or any other organisation) took the decision to continue to attempt to drill the world’s deepest well in a slapdash, corner-cutting, driving down cost, maximise added value fashion in a zone of salt dome features and severe faulting.
The word “geohazard” is not mentioned once in either of the above reports.
It is entirely possible that BP’s reasonable level of in-house expertise in this part of the GoM in such geologically risky conditions was overridden. Why one might well ask? Because the ultimate “paydirt” at MC252 was a prize of some 50 to 100 million barrels of oil (BP estimate), which for an extraction success ratio of 30% may have been worth 1500 to 3000 million US dollars. Small beer in relation to say, the Tiber prospect nearby but worth it all the same. This guesstimate is based on USD 100 a barrel. As the oil price continues to climb in the coming years, this black gold fortune was worth the risk for BP’s “management”. Worth ignoring their tiny teams of in-house technical experts, following the massive staff culls of the globalising megalomaniac cost slashing Lord Browne, post Amoco merger. The recent claims by new man Mr. Dudley that BP has fully and surprisingly rapidly absorbed the “Lessons Learned” from MC252 has a very hollow ring. This lip service phrase much used and abused within oil companies is usually taken with a massive pinch of salt. Public domain available documents and references describe in detail very close calls for BP and partners at Ursa (GoM) in the late 1990’s where several drillstring casings collapsed and buckled due to SWF problems. In the South Caspian Sea in 2003 several well casings were buckled at the AIOC West Azeri location which had to be abandoned and repositioned at huge cost due to a slightly different geohazard problem set (weak/unusual overburden clays, tophole overpressures, highly saline pore fluids, shallow gas and mud volcanoes). A further near miss occurred on a gas reinjection well at the next door Central Azeri Platform on 17th September 2008 when 211 personnel had to be evacuated following gas alarms. The avoidance of gas ignition was lucky. These expensive lessons were either learned and forgotten or ignored. More likely is that BP managers and senior individuals assumed they had been learned and that mitigation measures would somehow magically have been put in place by others. Or they simply accept the risks. There are many other such case studies. It is time for appropriate organisations and national governments to urgently check the activities of these arrogant corporate cowboys, at a time when we hear of BP partnerships in Russia, fresh exploration activities in Alaska and Australia and increasing plans to drill in deeper waters off high geohazard risk continental shelf edges. The culture of almost paranoid secrecy within BP has to be seen to be believed. Macondo is very likely still leaking hydrocarbons through a ruptured casing string at depth through seabed fissures and cracks. The hope has been that these will self-seal and stop. Try googling “B K Lim Macondo” and read his excellent and courageous detailed geohazard assessment.
“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted” – Martin Luther King. – The GallowGlaich.