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Poor Safety Practices Exacerbated BP Disaster, Coast Guard Says

Source: Washington Post

Posted on 25 Apr 2011

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The Coast Guard on Friday blasted rig owner, Transocean, for what it described as poor safety practices that exacerbated the disaster after BP’s Macondo well blew out one year ago in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard in its 288-page report after a nearly year-long investigation concluded that Transocean had “serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture manifested in continued maintenance deficiencies, training and knowledge gaps, and emergency preparedness weaknesses.”

The report says Swiss-based Transocean, operator of the world’s largest fleet of deepwater drilling rigs, has a culture that can be described as “running it until it breaks,” “only if it’s convenient” and “going through the motions.”

Transocean allowed gas alarms and shutdown systems to be bypassed; failed to maintain electricity systems that may have ignited the gas once it leaked from the well; and did not adequately train personnel for how to deal with a gusher, the Coast Guard concluded. The report takes no action but offers dozens of safety-improvement recommendations for consideration by the Coast Guard commandant.
Transocean disputed the findings.

“The Coast Guard inspected the Deepwater Horizon just seven months before the Macondo incident and certified the rig as being fully compliant with all applicable U.S. and international marine safety compliance standards, including those associated with fire and gas detection systems,” the company said. “Further, at the time of the accident the Deepwater Horizon possessed all required valid documents verifying compliance with all international and Coast Guard requirements.”

The long-awaited report is the Coast Guard’s half of the investigation known as the Marine Board of Inquiry, a joint probe by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The bureau is working on its report and is expected to be finished in late July.

That part of the investigation is likely to focus on such issues as BP’s well-design decisions, last-minute changes in procedures for abandoning the well, Halliburton’s cement recipe and the failure of the Cameron-built blowout preventer to seal the well.

The Coast Guard did not examine the causes of the April 20, 2010, blowout but instead focused on its area of expertise, the operation of a ship — the rig, technically known as a mobile offshore drilling unit.

Owned by Transocean as part of a fleet of 139 rigs around the world and leased by BP at a cost of half a million dollars a day, the Deepwater Horizon was largely staffed by Transocean employees. Under a Transocean policy that the Coast Guard skewers, the top person on the rig during drilling operations was the offshore installation manager, but when the rig moved, or experienced an emergency, the chain of command shifted to the captain, or master.