Oil spill report seeks better emergency procedures

AP News
Posted: Aug 17, 2011 12:02 AM
Oil spill report seeks better emergency procedures

The flag state for the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year wants improved procedures for activating emergency systems and maintaining fail-safe devices meant to prevent blowouts like the one that led to the massive BP oil spill.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian nation of atolls and islands in the Pacific Ocean, also says in a report to be released Wednesday that there should be better communication between regulatory bodies about the operation of offshore rigs.

The report also recommends rig operators ensure that new crew members, contractors and visitors are told when they board about the roles and responsibilities of people in charge of the vessel, and how the chain of command works in emergencies.

But it does little to place blame for the disaster on the principal companies involved, Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean Ltd. and British oil giant BP, which leased the rig to drill at its Macondo well site off the southeast Louisiana coast.

In somewhat of a pass for Transocean, the report concludes confusion regarding decision-making authority during the incident was not a cause of the disaster. A U.S. government investigation by the Coast Guard and the agency that regulates offshore drilling has spent a lot of time focusing on that question. Their final report has not yet been released.

The substantive conclusions of the Marshall Islands report concerning causes of the disaster are similar to those contained in other investigations.

An executive summary was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its official release.

The April 20, 2010, rig blast killed 11 workers and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from BP's well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The rig sank two days after the blast.

BP had been preparing to temporarily abandon the well when the explosion occurred.

The well was capped in July, though work to ensure the well stayed shut and on cleanup efforts continued for months.

Coastal marshes and fishing grounds were fouled by the oil and BP eventually set up a multibillion-dollar fund to compensate businesses and individuals affected by the crude.

The Marshall Islands report says the disaster was caused by a loss of well control. It blames a deviation from engineering standards and well abandonment plans approved by U.S. regulators, along with a failure to react to multiple indications that the well had lost control.

Recommendations on emergency systems and fail-safe devices involve the rig's emergency disconnect system as well as the blowout preventer atop the well on the Gulf floor. Neither functioned as they were designed to do.

The report to be issued by the Marshall Islands' maritime administrator drew upon documents submitted to several U.S. government agencies, testimony during U.S. hearings and from outside experts.

A presidential commission concluded a cascade of technical and managerial failures _ including a faulty cement job _ caused the disaster.


Follow Harry R. Weber at http://www.facebook.com/HarryRWeberAP