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BP Oil Spill Probe Finds One Hot Mess -- or Seven Causes Behind the Gulf Disaster

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that triggered a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has always been described as a complex accident. Now we're finally getting a glimpse into just how convoluted it really was. BP shared this week the first details of its internal investigation into what caused Transocean's oil rig to explode and BP's deep-sea well to fail. What BP has discovered so far can only be described as one hot mess.

BP pinpointed seven factors contributing to the accident that cover the gamut of operations on the rig. In short, this wasn't a case of one company or employee dropping the ball at an inopportune time. This was a case of repeated mistakes by lots of folks, as well as a breakdown in procedures, testing, equipment and how the well was sealed. A more detailed description of the problems and the multiple warning signs on the day of the rig explosion were released Tuesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

BP is saying this was a system-wide failure. And that mere declaration puts BP, the operator of the project, in the hot seat, as FT Energy Source also noted. If BP really is taking responsibility for the disaster, it would be an interesting development, indeed. Early on, BP tried to shift blame onto other companies that were involved, like Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG). Of course, BP may be hoping to drag everyone else down with it.

It's not likely BP will ever include this, but the list is missing one major factor: the failure of the government's Minerals Management Service to properly regulate the operation to begin with. This isn't to minimize BP's clear and obvious role here, but to note another breakdown that may have led to the explosion.

The BP investigation has focused on seven contributing factors to the Deepwater Horizon rig accident.

  • Cement that seal the reservoir from the well;
  • The casing system, which seals the well bore;
  • The pressure tests to confirm the well is sealed;
  • The execution of procedures to detect and control hydrocarbons in the well, including the use of the blowout preventer (BOP);
  • The BOP emergency disconnect system, which can be activated by pushing a button at multiple locations on the rig;
  • The automatic closure of the BOP after its connection is lost with rig;
  • Features in the BOP to allow remotely operated vehicles to close the BOP and seal the well at the seabed after a blow out.
Photo of surface oil removal in the Gulf of Mexico from Flickr user Deepwater Horizon Response, CC 2.0 Related:
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