In report on gulf oil spill, BP spreads the blame

A day after the blowout on BP's Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, crews battled the blaze on the damaged rig. BP's internal report on the disaster emphasizes "shared responsibility."
A day after the blowout on BP's Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, crews battled the blaze on the damaged rig. BP's internal report on the disaster emphasizes "shared responsibility." (U.s. Coast Guard Via Associated Press)
By Steven Mufson and David Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 9, 2010

BP rolled out the results Wednesday of a four-month internal investigation into the causes of the April 20 blowout of its Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, spreading blame among its contractors and giving a glimpse of the defenses it might deploy in public and in court.

The much-anticipated report asserted that a "complex and interlinked series" of failures - of equipment, engineering and judgment - led to the surge of oil and gas that exploded on the deck of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 people, sinking the rig and triggering the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The report was written by a team of 50 internal and external experts led by the company's head of safety and operations, Mark Bly, and the rollout Wednesday morning at a hotel in downtown Washington was labeled a "technical briefing."

But the document inevitably carries a heavy public relations element as well as legal and financial implications for BP. It arrives as the Justice Department is weighing whether to bring charges of criminal negligence against BP that could sharply increase the cost of the spill for the London-based oil giant and provide fodder for private lawsuits.

In addition, there is legislation in Congress that would effectively strip BP of the right to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. The company is haggling with the Obama administration over what pieces of collateral to offer while it is financing the $20 billion escrow fund that will be used to pay claims. And BP's main partner in the well, Anadarko Petroleum, has declared that it won't pay its share of the cleanup costs and claims because it views BP's well design and actions as reckless.

The BP report makes the case for "shared responsibility," saying that "no single factor" caused the blowout. It points to multiple failures by its contractors in maintenance, equipment and planning.

The investigation found fault with the recipe Halliburton used in its cement, with the flaps on a Weatherford International barrier device known as a float collar, and with the condition of hydraulic lines and batteries that might have sapped power from the blowout preventer made by Cameron International and operated by Transocean, making it impossible to clamp and cut through steel piping.

"Transocean was solely responsible for operation of the drilling rig and for operations safety," the report says in an appendix. "It was required to maintain well control equipment and use all reasonable means to control and prevent fire and blowouts."

The report also said Transocean and BP rig leaders jointly "reached the incorrect view" on well tests in the crucial hours before the explosion. And Bly said BP needs to reexamine the way it oversees work by its contractors.

BP's design not faulted

Yet the report absolves BP's widely criticized well design. It says the path that oil and gas followed as they escaped from the well meant that the well's casing and design - matters that could otherwise implicate BP - were not factors in the disaster. Instead, it says that if any one of eight failures of equipment or decision-making had not taken place, the blowout would not have happened.

The report not only offers new details and analysis of what went wrong, it also represents a bold declaration that BP is not going to assume more than what it considers its share of the blame for the accident. The report did not say how far up the BP corporate ladder the well problems went, and no employee was named or punished.

In a news release, BP chief executive Tony Hayward, who has barely spoken publicly since his disastrous congressional testimony in June, did not offer anything resembling a mea culpa.

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