BP, Transocean faulted for lax guidelines in Gulf spill report

Tue Jul 24, 2012 6:00am EDT
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By Chris Baltimore

HOUSTON (Reuters) - BP Plc (BP.L: Quote) and Transocean Ltd (RIG.N: Quote) lacked clear guidelines for key tests to ensure that the ill-fated Macondo well was safely sealed before it ruptured and triggered the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, U.S. safety investigators said.

The preliminary report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, to be delivered at a public hearing in Houston on Tuesday, puts the spotlight back on missteps highlighted in prior investigations as BP faces potential civil and even criminal penalties over the incident.

More than two years have passed since the disaster struck at 9:53 p.m. CDT on April 20, 2010, (0253 GMT on April 21), when a surge of methane gas known to rig hands as a "kick" sparked an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 men. The vessel sank two days later.

London-based BP was the majority owner and operator of the Macondo well and Swiss-based Transocean Ltd owned the rig, which was drilling the mile-deep well in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana's coast.

"(BP and Transocean had) multiple safety management system deficiencies that contributed to the Macondo incident," and neither had safety rules that adequately focused on major accident hazards, according the federal agency's report.

The well spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days straight, fouling the shorelines of four Gulf Coast states in America's biggest offshore oil spill, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

Investigators at the Chemical Safety Board, which has powers to subpoena witnesses but not to issue fines or citations, focused on crucial tests run by drill workers in the days ahead of the blowout to determine if the Macondo well was safely sealed with cement.

"Transocean is committed to continuous improvement in both personal and process safety performance," Transocean spokesman Brian Kennedy said.   Continued...

A gasoline station board displaying fuel prices stands beside a sign owned by a BP petrol station (L) in Moscow July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov