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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all