June 14, 2010 9:19 pm

US lawmakers point to BP’s ‘hasty decisions’

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BP took decisions aimed at cutting costs and speeding work at its Gulf of Mexico oil well that increased the risk of a blow-out, two Democratic lawmakers said on Monday in a letter to Tony Hayward, BP chief executive officer.

“In spite of the well’s difficulties, BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure,’’ said the letter, signed by Bart Stupak, chairman of the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations, and Henry Waxman, chairman of the House committee on energy and commerce.

On April 15, five days before the explosion on a BP-contracted rig, the UK company’s drilling engineer called the well, Macondo, a “nightmare well’’, according to the letter. It instructs Mr Hayward to prepare to answer questions about “risky procedures” in the days leading up to the April 20 rig explosion at a House of Representatives energy committee hearing on Thursday.

The committee said its investigation uncovered instances in which decisions were made that appear to violate industry guidelines and were made despite warnings from BP’s own personnel and its contractors. “In effect, it appears that BP repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time and made minimal efforts to contain the added risk,’’ the men said.

The committee said it would focus on five crucial decisions by BP against that backdrop. The first was its decision to use a well design with few barriers to gas flow. A BP plan review prepared in mid-April recommended a more time-consuming method as safer.

“Despite this and other warnings, BP chose the more risky casing option, apparently because the liner option would have cost $7m-$10m more and taken longer,’’ the congressmen said.

They also singled out BP’s apparent failure to use enough centralisers to prevent channelling during the cement process. Halliburton, the contractor hired by BP to cement the well, warned BP the well could have a “severe gas flow problem’’ if BP used only six instead of the 21 recommended. In an e-mail on April 16, the congressmen say, a BP official involved in the decision-making, wrote: “It will take 10 hours to install them . . . I do not like this.’’

They noted the failure to run a 9- to 12-hour procedure called a cement bond log to evaluate the effectiveness of the cement job. The fourth issue they want addressed is BP’s failure to circulate potentially gas-bearing drilling muds out of the well, which could have taken up to 12 hours but would have enabled workers to safely remove any gas pockets. They also hit at BP’s failure to secure the wellhead with a lockdown sleeve before allowing pressure on the seal from below.

“The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed a trade-off between cost and well safety,’’ the letter said.

BP said, “It would be inappropriate to comment on these matters in advance; no doubt they will raise these matters during the hearing.’’

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