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BP Oil Spill Cause: Add Coffee and a Half a Cigarette to the List

A U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department joint investigative team that aims to determine what led to the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can now add an ill-timed coffee and smoke break to the list. During the sixth session of hearings into the matter, one technician testified that he missed key signs that BP's Macondo well was on the verge of blowing up because he was taking a coffee and cigarette break, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

From Bloomberg:

Joseph E. Keith, a senior unit manager for Halliburton's Sperry subsidiary, told the U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department panel in Houston today that he left his post aboard the Deepwater Horizon for about 10 minutes on the night of the April disaster to drink coffee and smoke half a cigarette.

While he was away from his monitors, pressure data indicated the well was filling up with explosive natural gas and crude, according to charts entered into evidence today by the panel in Houston. Keith said that had he seen the pressure data, he would have "called the rig floor" to warn fellow workers they were in danger.

The lesson here isn't that smoking kills, although I'm sure someone will toss out that line. Nor can we blame caffeine or the poor sap that took his break and is surely haunted by the explosion to this day. Moreover, it's about the disorganized nature on the rig. An employee should be able to take a quick break without the risk of missing data that warns of an imminent explosion.

This isn't the only hint of chaos on the rig. Multiple maintenance projects were underway at the time, which was atypical. BP has claimed in its own internal investigation that workers on the rig misread test results. While BP's report is clearly self-serving, it's clear that there was a breakdown in communication during key moments of the drilling operations.

Photo from Flickr user SuperFantastic, CC 2.0
For complete coverage, see All Things BNET on BP's Gulf of Mexico Spill

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