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Safety Failures Cited in Gulf Oil Spill

Posted on 12 May 2010

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House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman says that his committee's investigation into the Gulf oil spill reveals that a key safety device, the blowout preventer, had a leak in a crucial hydraulic system.

The California Democrat said in a hearing Wednesday said that James Dupree, BP's senior vice president for the Gulf of Mexico, told House investigators that the test was "not satisfactory" and "inconclusive."

The tests indicated uneven buildups of pressure in different lengths of the pipe. The results, Mr. Dupree told investigators, signaled a potential influx of gas into the wellbore. It is now thought that a sudden surge of gas into the wellbore caused the well to blow.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) separately is expected to say that a preliminary House investigation has uncovered "four significant problems" with the blowout preventer. The preventer, he said, "apparently had a significant leak in a key hydraulic system," according to prepared remarks to be delivered this morning at an Energy and Commerce hearing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The committee's investigation has found that Transocean Ltd. had made "extensive" modifications to the blowout preventer before the explosion. A key shear ram, which is meant to cut through and seal off the main pipe in the event of a blowout, was also found to be "not powerful enough to cut through joints in the drill pipe."

The investigation also found that "the emergency controls on the blowout preventer may have failed." One finding was that a battery meant to activate a "deadman switch" when all other steps had failed was itself dead at the time of the disaster.

At the hearing, Mr. Waxman outlined a series of events leading up to the explosion. He said his committee has collected more than 100,000 pages of documents from the companies and agencies involved in the rig accident.