BP was Told of Oil Safety Fault 'Weeks Before Blast'

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BBC News

BP was Told of Oil Safety Fault 'Weeks Before Blast'

by
Hilary Andersson

Fire aboard the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon located in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: EPA/US COAST GUARD)

A Deepwater Horizon rig worker has told the BBC
that he identified a leak in the oil rig's safety equipment weeks
before the explosion.

Tyrone Benton said the leak was not fixed at the
time, but that instead the faulty device was shut down and a second one
relied on.

BP said rig owners Transocean were responsible for the operation and maintenance of that piece of equipment.

Transocean said it tested the device successfully before the accident.

Meanwhile, BP has said that its costs in tackling the disaster have now risen to $2bn (£1.34bn).

'Unacceptable'

On 20 April, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded killing 11 people, the blowout preventer, as the device is known, failed.

The most critical piece of safety equipment on the
rig, they are designed to avert disasters just like the oil spill in
the Gulf of Mexico.

The blowout preventer (BOP) has giant shears which
are designed to cut and seal off the well's main pipe. The control pods
are effectively the brains of the blowout preventer and contain both
electronics and hydraulics. This is where Mr Benton said the problem
was found.

"We saw a leak on the pod, so by seeing the leak we
informed the company men," Mr Benton said of the earlier problem he had
identified. "They have a control room where they could turn off that
pod and turn on the other one, so that they don't have to stop
production."

Professor Tad Patzek, petroleum expert at the
University of Texas, was blunt in his assessment: "That is
unacceptable. If you see any evidence of the blowout preventer not
functioning properly, you should fix it by whatever means possible."

Mr Benton said his supervisor e-mailed both BP and Transocean about the leaks when they were discovered.

Daily costs

He said he did not know whether the leaking pod was turned back on before the disaster or not.

He said to repair the control pod would have meant
temporarily stopping drilling work on the rig at at time when it was
costing BP $500,000 (£337,000) a day to operate the Deepwater Horizon.

Henry Waxman, a House of Representatives Democrat who
is overseeing congressional investigations into the rig disaster, has
accused BP of taking safety shortcuts to save money.

"BP appears to have made multiple decisions for
economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well
failure," Mr Waxman said.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward, giving evidence to
Congress, said: "There is nothing I have seen in the evidence so far
that suggests that anyone put cost ahead of safety, if there are then
we will take action."

Congress has identified numerous other problems with
the blowout preventer, including design problems, unexpected
modifications and a flat battery.

Cement job

The other major
problems on the rig, Congress has said, centred around the cement job.
Cement in an oil well blocks explosive gases from escaping, and it
appears the cement may not have set properly on the Deepwater Horizon.

BP said it had indications of a successful cementing
operation and the company that was in charge of the cement job,
Halliburton, has said it was consistent with that used in similar
applications.

Several rig workers the BBC spoke to who were on the Deepwater Horizon said there was pressure in April to work fast.

Work to prepare and then seal the well was behind
schedule and had to be completed before a production rig could move in
and start turning profits.

"Too many jobs were being done at one time. It
should have just really slowed down and just took one job at a time, to
make sure everything was done the way it should have been," said Mr
Benton, who is now suing BP and Transocean for negligence.

BP has responded to Mr Benton's account saying
Transocean was responsible for both the maintenance and operation of
the blowout preventer.

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