Any Last Words Tony?

Jim Brown
 
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Tony Hayward may need to update his will and send his goodbyes to friends and relatives before he walks into that congressional testimony on Thursday. We already know the outcome and if Senators had their way he would not be leaving the room alive.

The stage is set and just so Hayward knows what he is walking into a couple of senators thoughtfully sent him a letter outlining the sins of BP leading up to the explosion. There were five specific decisions that have come to light in the commission research into the disaster. All of them were errors on the part of BP and its onsite management. By spelling out the five decisions in advance it is clear Hayward is walking into the closest thing to a public flogging that the government can produce. If Hayward had his way he would probably opt for lethal injection instead of the public crucifixion.

Other industry heavyweights are already putting distance between themselves and BP. In testimony to be given on Tuesday the Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson, calls BP's decisions leading up to the explosion "a dramatic departure from the industry norm in deepwater drilling." The other four majors are circling the wagons around themselves and clearly BP is alone on the outside.

One decision leading up to the explosion was the decision to use only six so-called "centralizers" to stabilize the well before cementing it. The cement contractor, Halliburton, recommended using 21 because of the complexity of the well bore. BP's team leader, John Guide, "raised objections to using the additional centralizers saying it would take an additional 10 hours to install them. Guide wrote in an email, "I do not like this." In another email a BP official indicated Guide's position prevailed saying, "Who cares, it's done, end of story, it will probably be fine."

Six days before the explosion another BP drilling engineer complained in an email to a colleague that the well "has been a nightmare will which has everyone all over the place" meaning there were serious differences of opinion and lots of frustration.

Another decision by BP was to use a "long string", a pipe that runs all the way from the floor of the sea to the bottom of the well. A BP email said this option "saves a good deal of time and money." Unfortunately it also created a direct pathway for gas and oil to flow up the backside of the well. That point was recognized by a BP internal review a few days before the blowout.

The other option would have been a "liner tieback" and would have taken several days longer and cost more but would have made the well more secure by adding additional barriers to prevent gas from flowing unchecked toward the surface according to the BP review. Using the liner would have cost an additional $7 to $10 million. BP documents prior to the explosion agreed it would have been the safest choice. "Primary cement job has a slightly higher chance" of setting correctly with a liner according to a BP document from April.

After choosing the long string BP also made other decisions that made the well more dangerous. Senator Waxman pointed out in the letter to BP that their decision not to take 12 hours to completely circulate the heavy drilling fluid in the well was wrong and done to save time. It would have allowed them to check if gas was leaking into the well and be able to stop it before it became dangerous.

BP also skipped the cement bond log, a test to see if the cement had properly bonded to the well and to the rock formations. This information came from Schlumberger and the crew that was sent back to shore just hours before the explosion. It would have taken another 12 hours to run the test and would have shown if the cement job was adequate. It would have also allowed the crew to make repairs before moving to the next step in shutting down the well. A petroleum engineer advising the congressional committee called the decision not to run the cement bond test "horribly negligent."

All of this research has given the congressional committee plenty of evidence that BP was negligent in multiple cases and they can probably make a good case that the pattern of negligence was criminal. This is all they need to pierce any bankruptcy and force BP to pay in full for every penny of damages and cleanup. This is a life changing event for BP and one that could easily end BP as we know it.

Jim Brown

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