Engineers question BP gulf oil spill report

Lack of evidence hindered initial inquiry, firm says

FACING SCRUTINY The report was a “good foundation for further work,” BP’s lead investigator, Mark Bly, said yesterday. FACING SCRUTINY
The report was a “good foundation for further work,” BP’s lead investigator, Mark Bly, said yesterday.
By Dina Cappiello
Associated Press / September 27, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Engineers looking into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill exposed shortfalls in BP’s internal investigation as the company was questioned yesterday for the first time publicly about its findings.

BP’s lead investigator acknowledged that the company’s inquiry had limitations.

Mark Bly, head of safety and operations for BP, told a National Academy of Engineering committee that a lack of physical evidence and interviews with employees from other companies limited BP’s study. The internal team looked only at the immediate cause of the April disaster, which killed 11 workers and unleashed 206 million gallons of oil into the gulf.

“It is clear that you could go further into the analysis,’’ said Bly, who said the investigation was geared to discovering things that BP could address in the short term. “This does not represent a complete penetration into potentially deeper issues.’’

For example, the National Academy of Engineering panel noted that the study avoided organizational flaws that could have contributed to the blast. BP has focused much of its work on decisions made on the rig, not with the managers on shore.

Najmedin Meshkati, a professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, said he wondered why BP named its report an accident investigation when it left critical elements out. He asked BP to turn over information on shift duration and worker fatigue.

“How could you call this great work [an] accident investigation . . . [without] addressing human performance issues and organizational issues and decision-making issues?’’ Meshkati asked.

He referred specifically to the confusion that occurred leading up to the explosion, when many workers aboard the rig were busy with work associated with finishing up a well. This distraction could have led to missed signs that something was wrong.

“It wasn’t intended to be anything that it isn’t,’’ Bly responded. “It was a good contribution and a good foundation for further work for BP itself and others.’’

Other specialists questioned one of BP’s central conclusions that the oil and gas traveled up the center pipe, rather than the space outside the pipe. One wanted to know whether a device designed to shut off an engine when it starts to rev — as it would in the presence of gas — failed. BP said it didn’t know whether the device worked.

BP’s testimony, and the questioning, lasted more than three hours yesterday. It was the first time BP’s six-person investigation team was questioned publicly about its findings.

Today and tomorrow, investigators in Washington will turn their attention to the government’s response to the spill and its impact on the economy and environment at a hearing of the national spill commission set up by President Obama.

BP’s study found eight separate failures led to the oil rig accident. The report blamed BP and other companies, including Transocean, the rig’s owner, and Halliburton Co., which was hired to do the cement work.

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