BP Rig Missed 16 Inspections Before Explosion

CBS/AP

CBS/AP

This post was written by CBS News investigative producer Laura Strickler.

Newly released government inspection reports show BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig was only inspected six times in 2008 even though government regulations say drilling rigs should be inspected every month. In total, the rig missed 16 inspections since January 2005, according to the documents.

An Interior Department official told CBS News a rig might miss an inspection because it's moving from one place to the next or there might be a delay from weather.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Inspectors found five incidents of non-compliance at the rig dating back to 2001.

The last government inspection of the rig was on April 1 by Eric Neal, a government inspector who had only recently started his drilling inspection training, yet he was sent to the rig by himself to do the inspection.

Neal was asked about his experience by Jason Mathews, one of the accident investigators from the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation, May 11:

(Question): Have you done any drilling inspections?

(Neal): Only in training.

(Q): And for how long have you been in training?

(Neal): Four months.

"Seems a bit of a risk to allow novice inspectors to be responsible for a deepwater rig," said Gene Beck, associate professor of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University.

In response to questions about the inspections, an Interior Department spokesperson sent a statement referring to the many ongoing inquiries into the rig's explosion.

"These questions will be best addressed in the context of those investigations," the statement read.

"We need professional, highly trained inspectors who aren't just pushing paper and rubberstamping what the industry tells them," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee investigating the government's ability to thoroughly inspect offshore rigs.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS), the government agency that conducts inspections, has been sharply criticized for its "cozy relationship" with the oil and gas industry.

Two MMS employees who inspected Deepwater Horizon in 2009 were quoted in a recent report (PDF) by the Department of Interior inspector general describing the close relationship that MMS inspectors have with the oil industry.

Marcus Mouton inspected Deepwater Horizon June 9, 2009. Mouton told federal investigators he participated in skeet-shooting fundraisers where "various offshore companies sponsored a five person team.

"He said he had thought participating in the events was acceptable because many MMS employees including senior managers attended and participated in them. He explained he did not think offshore companies received any favors in exchange for inviting MMS inspectors to these events."

Another Deepwater Horizon inspector, Larry Williamson, described the relationship between the oil and gas industry and MMS employees by saying, "Obviously we are all oil industry." He added "We're all from the same part of the country. Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies out on these same platforms."

But Williamson said once a staff member was brought up on charges of taking gratuities from oil and gas companies, he told his employees that even eating with an industry representative was unacceptable.

MMS inspection reports dating back to September 2001 show five red flags or incidents of non-compliance. The last incident was from February 2007. Back in 2003, the reports note there was a pollution event on the rig that was investigated.

MMS has 56 inspectors in the Gulf of Mexico to oversee 3,500 production facilities that operate 35,591 wells, according to the Interior Department.

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  • Laura Strickler

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