Rising Tide keynote speaker Mac McClelland
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NEW ORLEANS (WSJ)—
Government tests uncovered serious problems with the blowout preventers aboard two deepwater rigs that were drilling relief wells to shut down BP PLC's broken well, regulatory documents show.
The problems are likely to spark new questions about whether the devices, touted by the industry as a fail-safe, are reliable.
The failure of the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer is a major focus of the investigation into the disaster.
[P]roblems were found on this critical safety device on the only two rigs allowed to drill in deepwater during the Obama administration's temporary ban. A relief well can intercept a blown-out well and help seal it.
The problems with the blowout preventers on the relief-well rigs, named Development Driller II and Development Driller III, were ultimately repaired.
Previously released documents have shown that the Horizon's blowout preventer was overdue for an inspection and may have had leaks.
According to the documents, both rigs drilling the relief wells failed a test of their "deadman switch," a device meant to shut down a well if the rig is incapacitated. On one rig, the device failed because of a faulty valve. On the other, a valve was installed incorrectly, an issue that was discovered only after several days of investigation. One federal regulator called it "a huge problem" in an email to colleagues.
The tests on the Development Drillers, which also revealed other problems with the devices, were more rigorous than the tests required by federal regulators before the disaster. Older test procedures, in effect before April 20, likely wouldn't have discovered the problems, the government documents say.
Members of the Obama administration used the failed tests as a justification for the president's controversial deepwater-drilling ban, originally imposed on May 27, documents show. In a July 1 email to colleagues, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said the failed tests provided "new evidence that BOP [blowout preventer] performance problems may be more prevalent than previously assumed."
"If EVERY BOP had to go through the same exhaustive checkout procedure that the two BOPs for the relief wells have gone through … there probably wouldn't be another BOP failure," Marcia McNutt, an administration science adviser, wrote in a June 28 memo.
Labels: Macondo disaster, oil