BP criticised for 'rushed' work on Gulf rig

Oil giant BP too often operated in a rush during the closing days of work on its doomed Gulf of Mexico well, a US presidential inquiry said today.

The company was accused of being hurried and making confusing, last-minute changes to plans that were unusual in the complex environment of deep water.

The White House oil spill commission said BP could have operated more safely if the company took the time to get the necessary equipment and materials.

“We are aware of what appeared to be a rush to completion,” commission co-chairman William Reilly said. What is unclear, he said, is what drove people to determine they could not wait for equipment and materials to perform operations more safely.

Lawyers investigating the April 20 disaster have said they found no evidence that anyone aboard the rig or on shore made a conscious decision to sacrifice safety for money.

But the panel’s leaders made clear today that the findings overall exposed a lack of safety culture on the rig, with Mr Reilly blasting all three companies involved – BP, Halliburton, and Transocean – as “laggards” in the industry and in “need of top-to-bottom reform.”

Much of the scrutiny focused on the company’s plan to temporarily plug the well, which investigators with the presidential commission said added to the risk of a blowout. Plugging the well is a procedure used to seal it off until the company comes back to produce oil and gas.

Experts questioned BP’s use of a single plug in the process. Charlie Williams, a chief scientist with Shell Energy Resources, said the company used a minimum of three plugs in its deepwater wells.

BP also chose to fill the well with seawater, rather than heavy drilling mud, leaving it vulnerable to an upsurge of oil and gas – a condition that is not allowed for exploratory wells drilled in other places, experts said.

The company also chose not to use mechanical plugs, devices put inside the pipe that also can block oil and gas.

Many of the decisions would have required additional time and materials, said Steve Lewis, an advanced drilling technology engineer with Seldovia Marine Services who reviewed BP’s drilling plans, federal permits and communications on behalf of the commission.

“I know there was pressure on these people to get done and move on,” Mr Lewis said. “The apparent shuffling and scrambling was not really necessary.”

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, a federal judge today barred news organisations from a conference over a company’s claim that the government is moving too slowly to resume offshore drilling.

It said the government had not yet issued a single permit to allow offshore drilling even though a moratorium was lifted in October.

US District Judge Martin Feldman said the hearing would be held in chambers and the media had no right to attend.

The government is defending the time it is taking to approve deepwater offshore drilling permits that would have been suspended under the moratorium that was lifted nearly a month ago.

Ensco Offshore claims that since the ban was lifted on October 12, the government has not issued a single permit that would allow the resumption of any previously suspended drilling activities.

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