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July 26, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 26, 2010/ Troy Media/ – Drill beneath the surface of the BP story, and disturbing truths are revealed.
Years before the BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama Administration was on notice of widespread corruption among regulators who oversaw oil-rig safety. President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar knew that they lacked necessary proof of rig safety when the president announced in March his intention to open coastal waters to new drilling.
Blame for the BP disaster appropriately falls on BP and the Obama Administration equally.
Minerals Management Service corrupt
On March 30, Obama proposed opening U.S. coastal waters to new oil and natural-gas drilling. Shortly after his inauguration, he admitted that the U.S. Department of the Interior was corrupt and in need of reform. Within the Department, the Secretary was on notice before March 30 from Interior Inspector General Mary L. Kendall that the Minerals Management Service, the agency responsible for overseeing rig safety and regulatory compliance, was rife with corruption and oil-company control.
On March 31, one day after the president proposed opening coastal waters to new drilling, Inspector General Kendall released her investigative report on the MMS. The report revealed knowing complicity with oil-company personnel in the falsification of inspection reports and influence by oil-company personnel over regulators.
Bribes from oil companies revealed
That’s for starters. MMS employees had accepted gifts from oil companies whose rigs they were to have regulated, including tickets to major sporting events, hunting and fishing trips, and meals. MMS employees engaged in illicit drug use and misused their government computers. The office responsible for investigating the BP oil rig had been grossly derelict. MMS Lake Charles District Manager Larry Williamson admitted oil-industry capture of MMS. Stated Williamson:
[W]e’re all oil industry. Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies out on these same platforms. They grew up in the same towns. They’ve been with these people since they were kids. They’ve hunted together. They fish together. They skeet shoot together . . . . They do this all the time.
MMS employees filed falsely favorable inspection reports. Those reports were the key means under the Outer Continental Shelf Act to document safety and operational compliance. IG Kendall found:
[S]ome MMS inspectors . . . allowed oil and gas production company personnel located on the platforms to fill out inspection forms. The forms would then be completed or signed by the inspector and turned in for review. [O]perating company personnel completed the inspection forms using pencils, and MMS inspectors would write on top of the pencil in ink and turn in the completed form. . . . MMS inspectors often used pencil to complete inspection forms. [A]nyone from MMS involved in the platform inspections could author the inspection form, and inspectors routinely signed each other’s names on the forms.
MMS corruption dates back to 2004
From his first day in office in 2009, Secretary Salazar had proof of corrupt practices in the MMS Lake Charles District Office, dating back to 2004. Neither he nor MMS Director Birnbaum, nor President Obama did anything material to end defective safety inspections until after the April 20, 2010, BP disaster.
In June 2010, Secretary Salazar finally fired Birnbaum and replaced MMS with a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
BP truth finally surfaces
Bobby Maxwell, 22-year veteran MMS auditor, said the BP disaster was entirely preventable if MMS had done its job. He said big oil’s control of MMS was no secret. “Corruption,” he said, “permeated the whole agency.”
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig was inspected six times in 2008, instead of the mandatory 12. Since 2005, MMS repeatedly deemed the rig safe, yet MMS missed 16 inspections. The BP rig was last inspected on April 1, 2010, by a novice sent there alone.
Fearing being harpooned by media and public for incompetence and corruption in the Department of the Interior and being cognizant of the BP situation, Secretary Salazar and President Obama are overreacting and playing catch-up. Defying several court orders, the secretary has imposed a new drilling-permit ban – a blunderbuss that is causing some companies to abandon U.S. coastal drilling and many to lose their jobs.
International Society for Testing and Failure Analysis Honoree Durk Pearson has copiously reviewed BP’s public record. He finds evidence that should have alerted BP and MMS of unacceptable risks when rig cement was first poured. Pearson says the well design, approved by MMS, known as “long string,” “while less expensive . . . was at higher risk,” containing “fewer seals between the high-pressure oil and gas and the ocean.” He faults BP because the “drilling mud was not recirculated for a full-well volume or until free from cuttings and oil” before the casing was cemented to the formation. He suspects that may have caused oil and gas leaks from the start. “One test” on the cement, he says, “was not clearly positive,” and another “suggested a leak.” When BP received the negative test, diagnostics should have been performed immediately, but were not. The cementing contractor “was unhappy with the job and said that it needed to be redone,” but BP sent the contractor’s employees home and never redid the work.
Pearson sees those events as leading to the rig explosion that occurred on April 20, killing 11 workers. Pearson explains:
BP started to replace heavy drilling mud in the drilling hole (which was dense enough to hold back the 9,000 pounds per square inch gas and oil pressure) with less dense sea water. When the mud/sea water pumps were turned off, the well continued to flow, proving that there was fluid leaking in from the formation. That was a huge red flag. At that point, BP should have pumped in mud ASAP to kill the well but didn’t. The company turned the pumps back on to continue replacing mud with the less dense sea water. This was BP’s last chance to kill the well before it started to blow. The failure at this point to pump mud was a terrible-and very obvious-mistake. Immediately thereafter the well started flowing heavily. The blowout preventer stack was activated but did not shut off the flow. It is possible that some of the casing was pushed up into the blowout preventer stack, preventing the rams from collapsing the pipe and drill string and cutting off the flow. The explosion followed with gas and oil erupting on the rig floor and igniting.
The gang who couldn’t shoot straight
In March when President Obama announced plans to open coastal waters for new drilling, he knew or should have known, and Secretary Salazar knew, that MMS gave no reliable assurance of safety. Neither the President nor Secretary Salazar had cleaned house to make sure that adequate safety checks were being performed on offshore drilling platforms. They both assumed the risks. The predictable result was the BP catastrophe.
Obama blew it
The failure to ensure adequate policing of safety ultimately lies with the president. The mistake reveals a critical lack of leadership. It was his duty, at a minimum, to obtain adequate safety assurance before he opened coastal waters to more oil and gas drilling. It was his duty to ferret out and eliminate MMS corruption, a corruption he knew existed at the start of his administration based on public statements he made condemning it. He failed America, as did BP.
There is no evidence that the dereliction that occurred on BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform will recur on any shallow-water drilling platforms, yet the administration fears its own ineptitude and is punishing the entire industry instead of those responsible. (The administration’s broad drilling moratorium no longer applies to shallow-water platforms, but work on many such rigs remains halted by other new regulations – and new drilling permits are not being granted.) Meanwhile, the administration plods along trying to find some way to bring competence and independence to a government department long captive of the industry it was supposed to regulate.