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BP Atlantis rig' ssafety documents incomplete

By Juliet Eilperin

A BP oil rig now operating in the Gulf of Mexico has lacked complete and accurate engineering documents, according to multiple documents and interviews, a deficiency which prompted one BP to warn these problems could "lead to catastrophic operator errors."

An independent firm hired by BP to investigate the allegations substantiated them in 2009, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post, and determined they violated BP's own execution plan. Stanley Sporkin, a former federal judge whose firm served as the oil company's ombudsman, determined that the allegations made by a disgruntled former BP contractor, who had helped oversee safety on the BP-owned Atlantis project were "substantiated," in the words of an e-mail his deputy sent on April 13, 2010.

The documents were first reported by the Associated Press Saturday afternoon.

BP spokesman Andrew Gowers wrote in an e-mail, "We are aware of Mr Abbott's allegations with respect to the Atlantis offshore production platform. When we learned of them, we took them very seriously and conducted our own internal investigation in addition to an investigation conducted by the Ombudsman's office."

"It is my understanding that our investigation found that the operators on the platform had full access to the accurate, up-to-date drawings (topsides, hull and subsea) necessary to operate the platform safely," he added. "I also understand that there was an issue around whether the electronic filing of those drawings was consistent with the project execution plan, but the key fact is that the operators on the platform had access to the drawings they needed for safe operation."

Billie Pirner Garde, BP's deputy ombudsman, wrote in a letter to former BP contractor Kenneth Abbott that multiple workers on the Atlantis had raised similar safety concerns.

"The concerns that you expressed regarding the status of the drawings upgrade project were not unique to you. It was a challenge to the Project and of concern to others who raised the concern before you worked there, while you were there and after you left," she wrote. "Your raising the issue did not result in any change to the schedule of BP addressing the issues."

According to one document unearthed in the course of the dispute between Abbott and the oil company, BP production member Barry C. Duff wrote in an August 2008 e-mail that "hundreds if not thousands" of engineering documents were incomplete, and suggested these insufficient safety records "could lead to catastrophic operator errors."

David Perry, a lawyer who has in his efforts to shut down operation of the BP-owned Atlantis, said his client was stunned to discover the rig had "incomplete, if not inaccurate engineering documents" when he started working for the company in September 2008, roughly a year after the operation began. Abbott helped oversee BP's safety compliance and the database that contained the necessary safety records as part of the project's management team.

"All of the documents should have been completed before they started production," Perry said in an interview. "He walked in the door and there was a problem."

Abbott repeatedly sought to address the issue of the inadequate engineering records on the Atlantis, which is stationed more than 150 miles from New Orleans in 7,070 feet of water, and was fired in February 2009. "He feels like his efforts to fix the problem got him terminated," Perry said.

Several members of Congress, including Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called on the Minerals Management Service to investigate Abbott's complaints in February, and an agency probe is ongoing.

Abbott and his attorneys have appealed repeatedly to senior Interior officials to shut down operations on the rig. "The only way to protect the Gulf of Mexico marine environment from this potential for catastrophe is to halt production from this platform until the massive safety failures related to Project Atlantis are rectified," Perry wrote on Abbott's behalf in a May 27 2009 to Silvia Murphy, an attorney-advisor in the mineral resources division in Interior's solicitor general's office.

BP's ombudsman dismissed the idea that Abbott was the victim of retaliation by the company, according to Pirner Garde, and suggested the flawed engineering documents did not violate federal regulations.

"Your action in raising the documentation/compliance issue to your management was not a driver in any action toward you," she wrote Abbott.

Neither Sporkin nor Abbott could be reached for comment Saturday.


Juliet Eilperin

 |  May 15, 2010; 8:41 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The name of this series is 'Post Carbon'...

Says a lot about what journalists and their readers know about matter, energy, and the environment.

Drill, baby, drill!

Posted by: jboogie1 | May 16, 2010 12:11 PM
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There seems little doubt that a big factor in the current problem was a general underestimate of the risk of this kind of problem. That is unfortunate in this particular case. It may well still take a long time for us to come to an understanding of just how damaging this disaster is. But as a predictor for the future, this reality is far more positive than the case where all efforts had been taken to guard against this kind of problem and it happened anyway. The real world always operates in chaotic process where people have varying competence, varying acceptance of risk, and varying scopes of expertise. Anytime there is a big problem, it will be possible to find those who warned about it and those who made bad judgements. In many cases, those evaluations just reflect chance and the clarity of hind sight rather than differences in real competence and understanding. But groups are never anywhere near perfect in understanding the competencies of their members or in making an objective assesment of risks. In the wake of this disaster both the industry and its regulators will have to adjust to a new understanding of the tradeoffs between caution and the cost of problems in deep sea oil exploration. But any fundamental changes in our attitude towards this kind of effort will have to weigh both the prospects that more caution could be enough to guard against a recurrence and the reality of the dangers of alternative means of satisfying our glutinous appetite for energy.

Posted by: dnjake | May 16, 2010 11:01 AM
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One of the options they would like to try is to stuff the pipe with junk like golfballs and rubber. A better option is to stuff it with COLLISION AIR BAGS. I think 20 of these collision airbags inside the pipe would be enough to stop the flow. If they can coat the airbags with sandpaper, the better, so it would have some better grip with the pipe surface.

Problem solved.

Posted by: spidermean2 | May 16, 2010 3:57 AM
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They just don't get it!

BP, Transocean and our government -- all of them -- must immediately cease spreading-out the oil. This approach will make it impossible for the fishermen and shrimpers to stop the oil from reaching beaches and critical habitat areas.

The whole notion to spread-it-out and the bacteria will-eat-it is ill-conceived, it won't work...not in time to keep the oil from contaminating critical areas. The oil must be coagulated (flocculated) and removed that way.

The bacteria will eat, what a joke!

First, whereas it may be true bacteria will eat "carbon" both as hydrocarbons and carbohydrates (all from plant life, right?); but it takes oxygen and nitrogen too. The oil adds the carbon, but where are the oxygen and nitrogen coming from?

Sure enough...waves, beach surf and storms add oxygen, but not in sufficient quantities to offset the high concentration carbon from the oil. What's going to happen is the additional carbon will cause bacteria to quickly deplete the available oxygen and start the kill off the only nitrogen and oxygen available which is bound in organic molecules of what? The plankton, the beginning of the food chain.

And the normal populations of aerobes that normmaly consume suspended organics in the oceans will be replaced by facultative anaerobes and true anaerobes...this will lower the oxygen levels and cause kills of fin fish, crustaceans, mollusks and plankton.

The Gulf is 600,000 square miles in area and doesn't have lots of current, but hurricane season starts in a couple of weeks.

The above offers a simplification, but it's accurate -- large scale organic messes was game for a long time.

I have tried every possible approach to enter a partial solution in from of the powers that be -- methods to minimize oil hitting some of the critical areas near the shallows, but the alpha-dogs in government and with BP, Transocean etc. won't respond.

What is happening now is pure BS promoted by people with the oil interests and government who have no technical skills in dealing with large scale remediation's.

This is a disgrace and it will cause irreparable damages.

If anyone who reads this can contact a decision maker working on the clean up, leave me a message on my WaPo Profile.

Posted by: Vunderlutz | May 16, 2010 12:19 AM
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Blah, blah, blah...shuffle papers, point fingers...what a waste of time.

Think for a minute.

We read "contain it", but then we read about the expanded use of surfactants to "disperse it".

And what happening is just the beginning of a backward, convoluted approach in a feeble, ill-conceived attempt to deal with BP's "significant toxic event" ("STE") in the Gulf of Mexico.

Aren't "to contain and to disperse" opposite intentions, or what? Are we living in an Orwellian world of double-speak and opposites?

Here's one rule: never, ever spread-out a toxic substance!

I know because this isn't guesswork for's just work, hard work. I'm both trained and certified in emergency response -- and literally unlike everyone posting here (that I have read) -- and obviously unlike everyone responsible for overseeing this mess -- I also have experience designing projects to remediate large quantities of hazardous organics. For months at a time, I have donned Tyvek personal protection equipment and breathed through a positive displacement air respirator system while cleaning up hazardous organics. I have spent months at time supervising remediation projects in the field.

I recognize ill-conceived actions and what's happening in the Gulf offers a prime example. And, worst of all, time is running out. Hurricane season begins on June 1st.

This is whole deal in the Gulf is out-of-control and has been from day one. As a service contractor to industry and government for many years, one thing I have learned is I am usually contacted after the experts have made a bigger mess and things have gone totally out of control.

My experience is the high and mightly accountants who run these corporations and the "yes-men" they hire don't have what it takes -- all they have are titles, degrees and a paycheck large enough to guarantee they continue to suck-up to their bosses -- but they can't generate traction in a crisis...when there is a real big event. We have seen that before in this country...twice in the last nine years.

It should go without saying, I am at a loss in my failed efforts to make connections with the right's not for a lack of trying. I'm retired and have nothing to sell. I have ideas on how to approach protecting some of the shallows and more critical wildlife habitats and fisheries...that is...if I can be brought into the loop before the stuff hits the beach...after that, it will be a generation or more before natural attenuation clears this stuff away. If you can help me reach the power that be, leave me a message on my WaPo Profile page...

Posted by: Vunderlutz | May 16, 2010 12:09 AM
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