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Efforts to Stop BP Oil Spill Faced Technical Obstacles

Aug 25, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Technology appears to have hindered efforts to stop the Macondo well’s flow following the Deepwater Horizon explosion, said the Washington Post. It seems workers lacked appropriate technical gear and were unable to receive large emails from those on land, said the Post, citing testimony made before an investigative federal panel.

Daun Winslow has become a key witness in the joint investigation conducted by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, said the Post. Winslow, a lead manager at Tansocean, the owner of the platform, was on a so-called “management visibility” visit to the rig on April 20, soon becoming a survivor and later moving into the lead role in the emergency efforts, explained the Post.

The inquiry has become rather contentious, noted the Post, which said that for most of yesterday afternoon’s proceedings, an attorney for BP grilled Jesse Gagliano, of Halliburton, about the well’s cement design and Gagliano’s suggestion that BP use 21 centralizers to ensure casing was centered before cement was pumped. BP used six.

Issues about who led the operation—some say Winslow could have created confusion regarding who was in charge—and Winslow’s methods are being raised, noted the Post. Also, a lawsuit just filed in federal court by fisherman and oil rig workers alleges that the huge amounts of water pumped from fireboats to stop the fire could have added to the problems at Deepwater Horizon, explained the Post.

The day following the explosion the rig was rolling dangerously and the derrick had collapsed. According to Winslow, a firefighting official said too much water was being used; Winslow passed an order from his onshore peers that water was only to be used to cool, not extinguish, reported the Post. When asked if the Coast Guard ordered him to stop dumping water, he responded, "I had no communications with the Coast Guard," quoted the Post. Winslow told the panel he was not receiving emails from onshore due to inadequate Internet bandwidth. "The files were too large to e-mail. They were trying to break them down into smaller packages," he explained, quoted the Post.

Winslow, a 30-year Transocean veteran, was part of a team of senior Transocean and BP managers there to celebrate the rig’s outstanding safety record. Winslow said he heard a discussion about well pressure tests; the well was in the last phase of being plugged and temporarily abandoned following what the Post described as a “long and problematic drilling operation.” When he later asked Jimmy Harrell—the lead onboard Transocean manager—about the test, he was given a thumbs up and told all was good, wrote the Post.

We recently wrote that days before the explosion, the crew received a memo from Transocean warning them not to be “complacent” about well control. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the memo was prompted by an incident on a Transocean rig in Britain’s North Sea the prior December. According to the Journal, the crew aboard that rig—Sedco 711—heard a loud noise just before dark liquid started shooting out of the well. Explosive gas surrounded the rig, and crews began to prepare for an evacuation. The well was brought under control before catastrophe.

Transocean officials were so disturbed by the incident that they held conference calls with all managers aboard their 170 offshore rigs and issued two safety memos, the Journal said. They concluded that the crew of Sedco 711 put too much faith in tests that showed the well was secure and stopped watching for signs of trouble. “The drill crew did not consider [a loss of] well control as a realistic event,” because of a successful valve test, Transocean wrote in an April 14 memo.

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