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BP, others blamed for failures

Narayan Lakshman
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Systemic failures: The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, off the southeast tip of Louisiana, in this April 21, 2010 file photo. — Photo: AP
Systemic failures: The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, off the southeast tip of Louisiana, in this April 21, 2010 file photo. — Photo: AP

Oil companies BP, Transocean and Halliburton share the blame for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico along with government regulators who failed to rigorously examine industry practices, according to the final findings of a presidential panel investigating the spill.

In a chapter of the report made available in advance of the full report's release, the panel says the blowout of BP's Macondo well in the Gulf was not the product of a series of “aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again”.

Rather, the panel argues, the root causes of the explosion and subsequent environmental catastrophe are systemic and in the absence of significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, they might well recur.

The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 20 last year following an explosion that killed 11 workers. After that nearly five million barrels of oil from the well spewed into the Gulf, causing widespread environmental damage exceeding in scale the Exxon Valdez spill near Alaska in 1989.

The panel of experts also specifically noted the missteps were rooted in systemic failures by industry management, extending beyond BP to contractors, and also by failures of the government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.

Describing the findings as “considerable and significant”, the panel says each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a well blowout and the cumulative risk from these decisions and actions was both unreasonably large and avoidable.

The panel recalls the immediate cause of the Macondo blowout was a failure to contain hydrocarbon pressures in the well and that there were three ways to have contained those pressures – the cement at the bottom of the well, the mud in the well and in the riser, and the blowout preventer.

“But mistakes and failures to appreciate risk compromised each of those potential barriers, steadily depriving the rig crew of safeguards until the blowout was inevitable and, at the very end, uncontrollable,” says the report.

Media reported a statement by BP this week in which the company underscored that the panel had apportioned blame to a number of companies, and not BP alone. “Even prior to the conclusion of the commission's investigation, BP instituted significant changes designed to further strengthen safety and risk management,” a BP official was quoted as saying in the New York Times. BP's share price rose after it became clear that several companies were said to be at fault for the accident.

Halliburton and Transocean also issued statements deflecting blame away from them, emphasising BP's role or the quality of their own management processes instead.

Last month, the United States Justice Department announced that it had slapped BP and other companies with a lawsuit seeking “unlimited removal costs and damages”, under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.


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