7 Interesting Facts About the BP Oil Spill

Many people may not realize that communication errors were a huge part in what caused the BP oil spill. This incident is an example of how failure to communicate in business can be tragic.

Background

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig was 9 years old and chartered by BP from March 2008 to September 2013. Built by Hyundai Heavy Industries it operated in waters 10,000 feet deep, was mobile and semi-submersible floating rig that was drilling 18,360 feet below sea level. The oil rig was located 41 miles from the Louisiana coast with 126 crew members on board at the time of the explosion. The companies that were responsible were BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.

 

Aftermath of the Explosion

The explosion caused oil to spill over the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days with an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 barrels per day. The total spilled oil came to about 4.9 million barrels which made it the largest oil spill in history. This spill directly impacted 68,000 square miles of ocean killing and harming 82,000 birds, over 6,000 sea turtles, and almost 26,000 marine animals. 47,000 people and 7,000 vessels were involved in the containment and removal and BP’s tab quickly grew to an estimated 55 billion dollars. 11 crew members on board died during the explosion and 143 spill related injuries and health issues were reported by surrounding hospitals from the cleanup crew and some residents.

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1. The Captain is not responsible for drilling operations or potential risks.

The accident occurred on April 20th 2010 at 9:45 p.m. Cement at the borehole did not create a proper seal and two valves designed to stop the flow of oil and gas along this pipe also failed. Oil and gas leaked through the pipe that lead to the surface. BP says that the cement mixture must not have been good enough. The investigating panel found that the cement used was one of the “cost cutting” decisions made by the overseeing companies. Federal Investigators questioned whether the failed equipment was inspected on schedule and found that they skipped 25% of these inspections. BP was aware that a leak was very possible but never made any attempts to ensure the rig and crew’s safety. According to Neil Cramond, who oversees BP’s marine operations in the Gulf, captains of rigs like the Deepwater Horizon are ultimately responsible for crew safety and environmental matters, but are not always involved in decisions about how to deal with drilling operations and potential risks. If the captain had more control over operations, he would have been involved and might have been able to help stop this leak.

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2. The crew took various pressure tests and misinterpreted the reading.

After misinterpreting a pressure reading as important as this, crew members were unable to take emergency actions or warn the rest of the crew. The crew did not consult off shore engineers or the engineers visiting the rig that day. Mud and gas poured onto the deck as crew members tried to stop the flow but failed. The mud and gas separator was overwhelmed and gas engulfed the rig. If the crew members would have communicated and asked for additional help with the off meter reading then they could have taken better action in preventing the leak.

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3. No real-time data available at shore which makes emergency communication impossible.

Johnson, whose responsibilities included training and personnel, was not on board the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded. He said he only visited the rig three days each month and was not able to monitor real-time data from it at his location on shore. If Johnson was actively receiving updated information and data he would have been able to interpret the pressure reading accurately and informed the crew of the leak in time. Mr. Johnson is one man, there should have been a crew of engineers viewing live data at all times.

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4. The gas alarm did not work.

The equipment itself failed to communicate to crew members that flammable gas was erupting onto the rig. If such alarm would have went off, crew members could have escaped.

From left to right, derrick man Justin Wilson, floor hand Homer Reid, floor hand Tony Spatola (standing behind mud motor), and motor man Patrick Line affix a hole opener and stabiliaer to the bottom hole assembly. Friday, March 1, 2013, in West Texas (Jim Seida / NBC News)
From left to right, derrick man Justin Wilson, floor hand Homer Reid, floor hand Tony Spatola (standing behind mud motor), and motor man Patrick Line affix a hole opener and stabiliaer to the bottom hole assembly. Friday, March 1, 2013, in West Texas (Jim Seida / NBC News)

5. The blast knocked out communication between him and the captain and offshore installation manager.

This is understandable, but there should be some kind of emergency pod a safe but close distance away for situations like this and many other smaller issues.

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6. Lack of emergency procedure.

OSRP- Oil Spill Response Plan was not used. Deepwater Horizon went from 240,000 barrels to 160,000 barrels a day so they did not see the need for an emergency situation plan. There should always be an emergency plan.

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7. Company officials had a low level of communication.

The investigating panel found that company officials had failed to consult with one another on critical decisions and that senior management had paid insufficient attention to the troubled well. The panel did not blame the accident on any one of these mistakes, but focused on the broader breakdown of communication and a lack of a culture of safety of all the companies involved.“The most significant failure at Macondo — and the clear root cause of the blowout — was a failure of industry management,” the study concluded. “Better management of decision-making processes within BP and other companies, better communication within and between BP and its contractors and effective training of key engineering and rig personnel would have prevented the Macondo incident.” –stated by the investigating panel.

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8. All companies involved blamed each other.

The BP engineers had past problems with Halliburton engineers. BP blamed the cement mixture and failure on Halliburton. Transocean claimed they had no part in the decision making that day. Not only did all three involved companies blame each other after the incident occurred, they never got along to begin with and never felt the need to communicate.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill#Background

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19425-the-eight-failures-that-caused-the-gulf-oil-spill/

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38818600/ns/disaster_in_the_gulf/t/oil-spill-investigators-focus-communication/#.V-C5kq1D9Do

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/science/earth/06spill.html?_r=0

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/17/oil-spill-could-have-been_n_824647.html

https://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2010/05/28/deepwater-horizon/

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