Rig engineers accused of ignoring tests that foretold disaster

Managers and engineers aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig may have made a "fundamental mistake" in ignoring the results of tests conducted just hours before the explosion that doomed it, according to testimony given by a BP investigator to a congressional committee.

This and other revelations pointing to a likely sequence of human and mechanical failings on the platform were contained in a memorandum prepared by staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which resumed hearings in Washington yesterday.

Tracking the events aboard the rig in the hours before the blast – which would claim the lives of 11 men and trigger a still-unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico – will be crucial in ultimately assigning blame.

BP, which continues to spearhead its efforts to cap the well from a command centre here in Houston, has repeated this week that it is too soon to judge who was principally at fault.

Separate hearings in Louisiana involving some of the men who were on the rig before the 22 April blow-out also promised to help solve the mystery. A prepared statement from one witness spoke to concerns that BP may have too quickly replaced dense mud in the riser pipe from the well with sea water. If gas and oil were already bubbling through faulty seals, removing mud away may have been a key error.

Truitt Crawford, a casual worker for the drilling rig owner Transocean, told Coast Guard investigators that he had become aware of disagreements between his company and BP about the decision. "I overheard upper management talking, saying that BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blew out," he said.

The congressional committee memo focuses on the last 22 hours of the rig's life when the team was engaged in the final cementing of the rig, including the installation of a temporary plug that would seal it until the time BP decided to return and begin drawing from it. People involved in putting the well in "rest mode" came from BP, as well as from Halliburton, who were doing the cementing, and Transocean.

Trouble may already have been brewing. According to the memo, about five hours before the blast, engineers detected an unusual dip in fluid levels in the riser pipe from the well to the surface. In hindsight that may have indicated a faulty seal or valve in the blowout preventer on the sea floor.

Perhaps more crucially, other tests designed to demonstrate the fastness of the cement came in with results that should have been "an indicator of a very large abnormality". It appears for now, however, that decisions were made at roughly 8pm to carry on with operations regardless – the likely "fundamental mistake". The catastrophe that destroyed the rig was to occur at 9.49pm.

In Washington, meanwhile, the US Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, whose department is also under fire for years of lax oversight of the oil industry, said that plans for the start by Shell of exploratory drilling off the coast of Alaska would be revisiting and adjusted in the light of the Gulf calamity.

Anthony Hayward, the CEO of BP, was holed up in the command centre for most of yesterday. However, he spoke to the question of blame on CNN. "There were a whole series of failures here, the blowout preventer failed on three separate occasions," he said, confirming that the company's own investigators had turned over their findings to date to staff on Capitol Hill.

He flat-out denied, however, that the failures on the rig five weeks ago now had "anything to do" with the company trying to save costs, as analysts have widely insinuated. He called the well blowout and rig explosion an "unprecedented accident".

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?