The safety valve protecting BP's oil well in the Gulf of Mexico failed a key pressure test just hours before an explosion causing the deaths of 11 people and a growing environmental catastrophe.
By Rowena Mason, telegraph.co.uk, May 12, 2010
BP officials told an official hearing that the rig's safety device - known as a blowout preventer - had highlighted problems before the accident.
The Deepwater Horizon rig operated and owned by contractor Transocean caught fire and sank almost three weeks ago, leaving BP responsible for clearing up the huge spill.
At U.S. congressional hearings this week, BP and Transocean, the contractor, blamed one another for "a cascade of failures" that led to the massive oil spill threatening America's south-eastern coastline. BP continues its efforts to seal the leak, which is gushing 5,000 barrels per day into the ocean.
It emerged yesterday in the testimony of James Dupree, BP's senior vice president for the Gulf, that tests before the blast showed "discrepancies" in pressure levels. These tests are meant to ensure the integrity of cement poured into the well to keep out natural gas. Another contractor, Halliburton, had just finished cement work hours before the blast.
"There was something happening in the well bore that shouldn't be happening," said Steven Newman, Transocean's chief executive officer.
A Democrat member of the committee, Bart Stupak, reported that the blowout preventer "apparently had a significant leak". The device had also been modified in "unexpected ways," he said, and may not have been strong enough to shut the well.
Henry Waxman, the Democrat chairman of the committee, said the case cast doubt over the oil majors' insistence that deepwater drilling is safe.
"BP, one of the largest oil companies, assured Congress and the public that it could operate safely in deep water and that a major oil spill was next to impossible," Waxman said. "We now know those assurances were wrong."