BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward tells journalists to step back as he walks along Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon on Monday. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)
Pressure to Save Time, Money may have Contributed to Oil Disaster
[F]ive weeks after the Deepwater Horizon blowout that triggered the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there is mounting attention being paid to whether concerns about money created an atmosphere of haste that--even more than broken gadgets, buckling cement or faulty plans--may have led to the disaster.
Even before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig went down in flames, BP's ill-fated exploration well in the Gulf of Mexico's underwater Mississippi Canyon had been consuming time and burning through money.
BP had been drilling for six months, about twice as long as expected. And it was paying probably around $2 million a day--half a million dollars a day just to lease the rig, and more for supplies and a bevy of top-drawer contractors such as Halliburton.
That price tag and the pressure to save money appear to have weighed heavily on the minds of people on the Deepwater Horizon, according to interviews rig workers have given to congressional investigators and publications including The Washington Post.
Industry sources say that BP told three workers from the oil services firm Schlumberger they could go home without doing a key test of the sturdiness of the cement in the hole, something that would have taken several hours; they left the rig 11 hours before the well blew up.
Rig workers and lawmakers have faulted BP for failing to pay enough attention to a spike in pressure in the drill pipe and for neglecting to ask for a second cement plug in the well--both of which could have been addressed with more time. Instead, rig workers have said, BP pressed ahead with substituting sea water for drilling mud in preparation for closing the well and moving the exploration rig off the site. (A separate platform would be built later to produce the oil.)
Time worries weren't the exclusive province of BP. In a 2006 trade journal, Transocean and General Electric engineers wrote about how to save time on blowout preventer tests by leaving test valves in place. At a conference in 2009, a Halliburton official spoke about how to get cement to set faster. And in a conference call last August, Transocean's chief executive was grilled by investment analysts to explain how time lost because of rig accidents and blowout preventer problems had cut into profits....
Concerns about time--and money--might also explain the installation of a test valve in the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer. In a 2004 letter, Transocean and BP agreed to substitute a test valve for one of three variable bore rams capable of pinching off oil flow in a blowout -- while acknowledging that the substitution would reduce redundancy and increase risk.
In an effort to save time and money, this is what BP, Transocean, and Halliburton have done to the Gulf Coast (H/T, Liprap):
An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral him on an island in Barataria Bay on Sunday, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo)
A young heron sits dying amidst oil splattering underneath mangrove on an island impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Barataria Bay, along the the coast of Louisiana on Sunday, May 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Are you happy now, BP? How are those cost-cutting efforts looking now?