Investigation Finally Begins into Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig

Deepwater Horizon on firePhoto: US Coast Guard

Hey, remember that BP oil spill? It only happened seven months ago and it
already seems like ancient history. The media has certainly moved on to other topics, and the reporting on the spill ended pretty much when there was no more gushing oil to be filmed. But even though there’s not wall-to-wall coverage of the BP oil spill that occurred in the Gulf Coast last April, there’s still an ongoing investigation into what happened the day the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, leaving 11 workers dead and starting the biggest environmental disaster in United States history.

Deepwater Horizon Blowout preventerPhoto: US Coast Guard 8th District External Affairs

A forensic investigation of the rig’s blowout preventer is underway, with the 300-ton steel structure being stored at New Orleans’ NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. The blowout preventer (BOP) is attached to every oil rig and is meant to stop oil and gas from rushing up the well, which is what caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The BOP uses a series of rubber valves to choke the pipes in the rig with up to one million pounds of force and prevent explosion. If the rubber valves fail, a set of rods can ram through the pipes as a last resort, releasing pressure and preventing a blowout. Both of these mechanisms failed last April on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

This investigation, conducted by Norwegian contracting company Det Norske Veritas, will be particularly important in placing blame on one of the companies that operated the rig while it was active. Although the rig was originally built by American company Cameron, it was altered and operated day-to-day by Transocean. BP and Halliburton were also involved in the operation of the rig. A recent investigation found that all four companies acted with negligence in following safety procedures on the rig. According to government officials, the investigation of the BOP will take about 60 days, but they will name no official deadline for the end of the investigation.

Congressional hearing on Deepwater HorizonPhoto: US Coast Guard 8th District External Affairs

Of course, this investigation is not without controversy. Since Det Norske Veritas (DNV) won’t be able to commit all their resources to the investigation, the company contracted the job out to their American counterpart, DNV Columbus (Ohio). Some environmental groups have raised concern with this decision since DNV Columbus was the same company that evaluated the rig’s BOP in 2007 and declared it up to par with safety standards. DNV has close ties to Transocean as the company was hired to check out other BOPs under Transocean’s control in 2009. DNV also hired a Transocean Vice President (N. Pharr Smith) to be chairman of the company’s rig owners’ committee, which advises DNV on safety regulation and other issues related to oil rigs. With or without the controversy, the $1.3 million contract has already been issued to DNV, and the FBI is keeping close watch on the investigation to make sure nothing unusual happens. With the history of this case, you never know who’s working for whom, though.

While this investigation may finally reveal which company is most at fault for the BP oil spill, it is still clear that all four companies involved here acted with little care for the environment and the safety of their employees, with the profit margins of course being their biggest goal. Hopefully, the one positive that will come out of this case is major reform in safety procedure for all offshore drilling and more oversight on companies that insist on drilling for oil but not protecting their workers
properly. Many politicians involved in this case have talked tough to BP, but I hope to see that same toughness when it comes to setting new safety regulations for these oil companies.

Oil covered birdPhoto: IBRRC

One thing that may be lost in the 200 million gallons of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico is that 11 people lost their lives the day that rig exploded. While a camera was trained on the busted pipe so we could get around-the-clock coverage of the spill, there were 11 families out there grieving for people who shouldn’t have died. That’s what I hope BP (or any oil company) takes into consideration next time they go to build an oil rig. Instead of focusing only on the bottom line, it would be very refreshing to see one of these companies learn from mistakes and take the initiative to be a leader in safety, and give their workers the protection they deserve. Of course, I won’t hold my breath.

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