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White House Commission Places Oil Spill Blame on 'Cost-Cutting' Decisions Made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean

Nathanael Baker's picture
EnergyBoom Media Inc.

Nathanael Baker is the Managing Editor of EnergyBoom. He has been immersed in the areas of renewable energy and climate change for two years. Before joining EnergyBoom, Nathanael was the Director...

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In its final report, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling has found that negligible decisions made by BP (NYSE: BP) and its partners Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) and Transocean (NYSE: RIG) were the primary factors leading to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the ensuing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico last spring.

The Commission was established by President Obama in June, during the peak of the oil leak, to determine what went wrong and what reforms need to be made in order to ensure such disasters do not occur again.

The Commission has released an advanced chapter [pdf] of its report, which will be published in its entirety next week.  In the chapter, the Commission places the majority of the disaster’s blame on BP, Halliburton, and Transocean placing financial interests before safety. 

“Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money).”  The report includes a chart which outlines decisions made during the drilling of the well that saved time and money, while increasing risk.

These conclusions seem more sharply pointed than the findings of BP’s internal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  BP determined no single action of inaction led to the disaster.  Instead, it was “a combination of factors including mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation, and team communication.”

As the Scientific American reports, the report finds each company to have made several poor decisions.  For example, the Commission states BP’s “fundamental mistake” was that it did not use a diagnostic tool to test the stability of the cement barrier of the well; instead of exercising caution, the compnay relied on the fact the cement could act as a sufficient barrier to the flow of oil and gas. 

The Commission also criticized Halliburton’s cementing of the well.  The report states Halliburton documents show the company may have pumped cement into the well before receiving any tests which indicating the well would be stable.

Both BP and Transocean were rebuked for failing to provide the crew with procedures on how to read negative test results from the well.  The negative test results were ultimately misread by the Deepwater workers.

The Commission is the first government body to complete its investigation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, although it is not the first investigative body to lay the bulk of the responsibility on the drilling partners.  However, in its analysis, the Commission is adamant that Macando oil well blowout is not an isolated event connected only to these three companies and a bizarre set of circumstances.  Rather, it contends the disastrous blowout speaks to serious flaws of current deepwater offshore oil drilling regulations and operations:  “The root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

The Commission has no authority to level penalties or establish new policy, but its conclusions could play a role in future lawsuits pertaining to the spill as well as future regulatory policy.

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