Backlash begins as BP attempts to spread blame for rig explosion

Contractors lash out at 'self-serving' and 'inaccurate' report on causes of oil spill

BP set the scene for a vicious multibillion-dollar legal showdown with its contractors in the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig, pinning them with much of the blame for the explosion which led to the largest oil spill in living memory.

In its internal report on the disaster, BP said employees of the rig operator, Transocean, missed warning signs a full 40 minutes before the explosion on 20 April, and it identified flaws in the technology deployed by another contractor, Halliburton. The design of the well, for which BP was itself responsible, was not a major factor, the report concluded.

Immediately after the publication of the report yesterday, BP was pitched into a war of words with Transocean, which accused the British oil giant of producing a "self-serving" report designed to conceal BP's own failings.

Billions of dollars rest on whether BP is found to have been grossly negligent, because if so, it will have to take sole responsibility for the costs of compensation to the families of 11 workers who died, federal fines, and the massive clean-up along the Gulf of Mexico coast. If the version of events set out in the report is endorsed by regulators and the courts, BP could claw back some of the costs from its contractors.

BP has so far spent $8bn (£5.2bn) to staunch the gushing well, from which oil flowed freely into the Gulf for three months, and to clean up the Gulf coast. It has promised to put $20bn into a compensation fund to cover economic damage done across the region.

"We have said from the beginning that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a shared responsibility among many entities," said Bob Dudley, BP's incoming chief executive. "This report makes that conclusion even clearer, presenting a detailed analysis of the facts and recommendations for improvement both for BP and the other parties involved."

The 193-page report was commissioned by Tony Hayward, the outgoing BP chief executive, in the days after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank. It was written by the company's safety chief Mark Bly, with a team of 50 engineers.

It found no single cause of the disaster, but eight contributing factors. Cement provided by Halliburton failed to contain hydrocarbons at the bottom of the well; BP and Transocean employees on the rig misinterpreted the results of pressure tests that could have given them earlier warning that something was wrong; escaping gas was not directed overboard, as it could have been; and the blow-out preventer, which was supposed to automatically activate to shut the well after an accident, failed.

BP's insistence on designing the well with only six "centralisers" – devices used to keep cement even when it is being poured into the well – instead of the 21 suggested by Halliburton was an "incorrect decision", said Mr Bly, but it did not contribute to the disaster, because oil and gas escaped in another way.

"This report is not BP's mea culpa," said Edward Markey, a member of a congressional panel investigating the spill. "Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece." Robert Gordon, an attorney representing more than 1,000 businesses affected by the spill, said: "BP blaming others for the Gulf oil disaster is like Bernie Madoff blaming his accountant."

BP admitted that the Bly report is far from being the final word on the disaster. It received only limited cooperation from its contractors, and the blow-out preventer was only raised from the sea last week and is yet to be properly examined for clues as to why it failed.

And contractors were quick to reject BP's conclusions. Transocean said: "This is a self-serving report that attempts to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the incident: BP's fatally flawed well design. In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk – in some cases, severely." Halliburton said the report contained "substantial omissions and inaccuracies"; that it remains confident work on the well was done to BP's specifications and that it is fully indemnified for any allegations in the report. Transocean also says it has indemnification from BP, but the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, advising investors that Transocean's debt looks increasingly risky, said it now expected BP to challenge that.

The blame game...

BP says:

* The investigation report provides critical new information on the causes of this terrible accident. It is evident that a series of complex events, rather than a single mistake or failure, led to the tragedy. Multiple parties, including BP, Halliburton and Transocean, were involved.

* Transocean's shut-in protocols did not fully address how to respond in high flow emergency situations after well control has been lost. Well control actions taken prior to the explosion suggest the rig crew was not sufficiently prepared to manage an escalating well control situation.

* [Halliburton] did not conduct comprehensive lab tests that could have identified potential problems with the cement... We believe that BP and Halliburton working together should have better identified and addressed the issues underlying the cement job.

The contractors say:

Transocean This is a self-serving report that attempts to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP's fatally flawed well design. In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk.

Halliburton As we continue to review BP's internal report published earlier today, we have noticed a number of substantial omissions and inaccuracies in the document. Halliburton remains confident that all the work it performed with respect to the Macondo well was completed in accordance with BP's specifications.

The critics say:

Representative Edward Markey This report is not BP's mea culpa. Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece.

Greenpeace This report is a sorry catalogue of the gaffes and failures behind the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And it's highly likely that a truly independent report would be even more damning for BP.

Q&A: So what does BP claim caused the Gulf oil spill?

What are the most important claims in the BP report?

In its simplest terms, the 192-page document, which was researched and compiled by at least 50 engineers, concludes that there was no single cause of the oil spill, but that a string of failures that were individually insignificant added up to disaster. As well as providing recommendations for avoiding a repeat disaster, it gives eight key explanations for the spill, ranging from the use of the wrong type of cement and unreliable pressure tests to the failure of the blowout preventer, and suggests that slow reactions and poor decision making also contributed. Crucially, while the report admits that some of the responsibility should be shouldered by BP, it also insists that contractors Halliburton and Transocean take some of the blame.

What are Halliburton and Transocean accused of?

Transocean, which owned the rig, is blamed for some of its workers' decisions after the initial blowout. Halliburton, the cementing contractor, is accused of designing a faulty cement seal that may have allowed natural gas to enter the well; this was one of the causes of the explosion.

What does the report leave out?

By focusing on errors that spread the blame to other companies, the report plays down the impact of decisions made by BP that some critics say were negligent. In particular, it says little about problems with well design that were highlighted earlier in the year by the US Congress. For instance, the authors say that the blowout was not the result of problems with the type of well casing; internal documents suggest that the casing used was chosen because it was cheaper than alternatives, despite being riskier. The report also rejects the idea that another contributing factor was BP's decision to use fewer of the "centraliser" devices that were supposed to keep the casing in the right place.

Why has BP produced the report?

The company's leadership will hope that the evidence it includes will help to defend it against the mounting lawsuits that it faces in relation to the spill. Specifically, the version of events it outlines implies that BP should not be deemed "grossly negligent" – a charge that could lead to vastly higher fines and compensation payments if it stuck.

Will it have the desired effect?

Government investigators are likely to take the BP report's conclusions with a pinch of salt, given the company's interest in its outcome. But executives may still believe that, as a public relations exercise, the document could be useful, shifting the blame away from BP and towards the other companies involved.

How have the markets reacted?

So far, none of the companies' share prices have suffered; all three sets of prices were up in early trading in New York yesterday.

Archie Bland

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits