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
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel