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Human, Regulatory Failures to Be Cited in Gulf Spill

Source: WSJ

Posted on 11 May 2010

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Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) said technological, human and regulatory failures contributed to an oil-rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico that's spewing thousands of barrels of oil a day into the sea.

"At the heart of this disaster are three interrelated systems: a technological system of materials and equipment, a human system of persons who operated the technological system, and a regulatory system," Mr. Bingaman will say, according to a copy of his statement. "These interrelated systems failed in a way that many have said was virtually impossible. We need to examine closely the extent to which each of these systems failed to do what it was supposed to do."

The comments reflect an interest in continuing offshore drilling in the deep waters off the coast of the U.S. Some environmentalists have called on the Obama administration to ban offshore drilling following the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Mr. Bingaman said he will work to develop legislation as lawmakers develop an understanding of what went wrong. "I don't believe it is enough to label this catastrophic failure as an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence," he said.

The top ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), said that despite the tragedy of the explosion and subsequent spilling, the U.S. could not afford to cease offshore exploratory oil drilling.

"We can't look at this sad chapter and conclude we should increase the billions of dollars to foreign governments that run greater risk and use our money against us," Ms. Murkowski said.

She said that even under the most optimistic scenario for the development of alternative energy sources, the country would need a lot of oil for many years to come.

But the lawmaker said, like her Democratic counterpart, she had many questions about what had led to the oil-rig accident.

Meanwhile, Transocean Ltd. got support for its argument that the cement or pipe known as casing must have failed and caused the oil-rig explosion.

Transocean Chief Executive Steve Newman will tell the Senate committee that "the one thing we know with certainty" is that in the blast "there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing or both."

"I agree," F. E. Beck, a petroleum engineer at Texas A & M University told the committee. But he said that the wellhead casing "is also suspect."

Halliburton Corp. was responsible for the cement work, which involves filling up a space between the hole bored into the sea floor and the casing inserted into the hole.

Halliburton's chief safety officer, Tim Probert, won't say whether the company's cementing work was faulty, but he will testify later that "confirming cement integrity" is up to the well owner, who can always "elect to perform remedial action" by perforating the well's casing and "squeezing cement into the remaining voids to improve the integrity of the original cement."