CEO Mud Wrestling

One of the key moments of yesterday’s Environment and Public Works hearing on the BP Disaster came when Tom Udall tried to pin the CEOs down on whether, as reported by WSJ, at BP’s direction, Halliburton swapped out the drilling mud for seawater prematurely–something we’ve looked at as well.

BP, the well owner, blames the failure of a big set of valves on the sea floor, known as the blowout preventer, to halt the blowout once it started.

A different account comes from Halliburton, a contractor in the drilling. This account is corroborated to some extent by Transocean, as well as by two workers on the drilling rig, The Wall Street Journal has determined.

This account describes a failure to place a cement plug within the well. The plug is designed to prevent gas from escaping up the pipe to the surface.

Before such a plug is placed, the job of keeping underground gas from coming up the pipe is done by heavy drilling fluid inside the well, commonly known as “mud.”

The plug is normally put in before the mud is removed, but according to the account of Halliburton, Transocean and the two workers, in this case, that wasn’t done—drilling mud was removed before a final cement plug was placed in the well.

It is not clear why such a decision would have been made. Rig owner Transocean says that BP, as owner of the well that was just being completed, made key decisions on how to proceed. BP declined to comment on this account of the drilling procedures.

Predictably, no one really wanted to go on the record whether that was one of what appear to be numerous problems that contributed to the spill. Equally predictably, no one seems to have the well plan that would make this all clear.

31 replies
  1. PJEvans says:

    And equally predictably, Congress is going to do the wrong thing again.
    These companies need to be hit with fines big enough to hurt their bottom line.

    (Not the only ones, either: one major grocery chain in SoCal has just been found to be overcharging, for the third time in three years. Clearly it’s going to take real punishment before they learn anything.)

    • DWBartoo says:

      Until individual people, not corporations, may be held accountable, PJ, this will not change.

      And, the one thing most frightening to Congress IS individual responsibility, as they understand, quite clearly, that it would, inevitably, apply to them as well.

      (“I say, are we men or mice?” one asks.
      “Squeak for yourself!” replies the other.)


    • scribe says:

      The way I see it, since BP, Halliburton and Transocean all agreed yesterday 2/3 of the time as to who was at fault (i.e., 2/3 agreed BP was at fault, 2/3 agreed Halliburton was at fault and 2/3 agreed agreed Transocean was at fault), we take the executives out and give them the … well, you fill in the blank. Something to put the “fear of God” in these clowns and pour encourager les autres.

      But, in a civil court, 2/3 is well more than a preponderance of the evidence, so we know they’re at fault.

  2. scribe says:

    I suspect the mechanism was something like
    1. There’s some level of delay in closing the well.
    2. A number of BP execs fly out to the well to see if their presence can push this well along to completion.
    3. They stand around, get in the way, and generally make nuisances of themselves while relying on their presence and interference to goad the workers to close the well.
    4. A point comes when one of them, in charge, pushes the workers to do whatever it was (like moving forward toward closing before giving the cement sufficient time to set, or encouraging the use of faster setting – and greater heat-producing – cement, or whatever will turn out to be the turn) which sets the failure tree into motion.
    5. The laws of thermodynamiocs, mechanics and physics take over and that which was supposed to remain down there, winds up up here.

    But, I’m almost certain the precipitating event came about because of the presence and influence of the BP execs on site.

    • DWBartoo says:

      What you say, scribe, may well be true (I suspect that it played a significant roll), but it will neither be recognized nor acted upon.

      Big Wigs will nevah seek to bring other Big Wigs to account, for then, decades of breeding and growing money will be lost.

      It is fine if the people’s money is lost or squandered but that of the ruling classes is sacrosanct, IT just isn’t done …

      Currently, the law is on their side, as it has been since the inception of this nation.

      If we can thwart Executive Supremacy, then the rule of law might shift, out of sheer embarrassment, to something better. But that will most likely, should it occur, be owing to lucky accident rather than deliberate intent.

      It is like Nessie in the lake or genuine democracy in America.

      Either would be awesome.


  3. bmaz says:

    It is nice to see another Udall on the environmental beat. Would be great to have Tom, and his cousin Mark, also a Senator (Colorado) really seize the mantle and lead here in honor of, and in the footsteps of, Stewart and Mo Udall.

  4. ghostof911 says:

    Amos: ‘Mon back.

    Amos: ‘Mon back.


    Amos: Stop!

    Andy: Amos, next time, put the “Stop” before the BOOM!

  5. Gitcheegumee says:

    I KEPT waiting for SOMEONE to ask just exactly WHAT is the advantage to removing the drilling mud before a final cement plug was placed in the well?

    Since this is the less traditional method,WHY was this method employed? What was the rationale ?

    If anyone asked/answered this question, I missed it.

      • JTMinIA says:

        I don’t agree. The order in which the mud is removed and the upper plug is installed has no effect on re-opening the well. The only advantage of removing the mud first is to save time. There is no other advantage. And there’s a huge disadvantage in that it means one less line of defense for a certain period of time.

      • tjbs says:

        A follow up question would be is there a way to destroy the well to stop the leak, at the cost of a total loss to these three companies, rather than dicker around with controlling the oil blow out so they can still tap the hole in the future?

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        Yes. I think I may have read that info ,too.

        But I wanted the question to be asked(and answered) on record ,under oath,in public.

        The idea would be to make them admit WHY they chose the less orthodox method..and if it was $$$,that’s pretty damning,considering the longterm ,monumental cost in longterm destruction to the environment and employment.

        • klynn says:

          You are going to the heart of the concern IRT the lack of risk assessment which was brought up in the previous thread.

          I am with you on the need to still ask the question under oath.

  6. tjbs says:

    How convenient the daily records, in this day of instant electronic communications, the final days records went down with the rig.

  7. fatster says:

    BP holding back, UWF researchers say

    “Researchers from universities across Florida claim they are being locked out of Gulf oil spill response efforts by BP and state and federal agencies.”


  8. fatster says:

    Woo-hoo! Sutton’s bringing up the Cheney Energy Task Force.

    The four before them haven’t a clue, but they will check.

    • JTMinIA says:

      Amazing that the Haliburton guy doesn’t know if Haliburton was invited to those private chats. Yeah, riiiiight.

      • fatster says:

        You might expect him to dip into his little humor stash and respond that Dick himself was there.

    • Leen says:

      Chris Matthews has been pounding this issue hard. Last night on Hardball during Matthews closing statements he said Cheney needs to be called out on his role in Halliburton, his secret energy meetings

      Chris Matthews “Cheney needs to testify. Under the lights and under oath.”

      those testifying yesterday referenced the “cement” 13 times before I stopped listening.

  9. JTMinIA says:

    Newman is fantastic at not answering questions. Whenever they ask him about order, he always dodges. He was asked if there is a standard order to the process and only said that the mud had to be removed at some point, dodging the key issue: *when*.

  10. JTMinIA says:

    I love the focus on “dispersants.”

    Goes nicely with the idea that coal-fired plants aren’t a problem when it’s a windy day.

  11. IntelVet says:

    Sadly, I hear the champange the executives brought to celebrate the successful drilling and finding more crude than they ever imagined, went down with the rig.

    I must agree with #2. The very presence of the executives was an integral part of the failure.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Thank you, GCP, that was quite an education.

      I especially appreciate the conversations with “James” which I had heard mentioned, several times, but had not heard directly.


  12. Hmmm says:

    IIUC, the Seven Years of Safety party featuring the mainland bigwigs was happening at the exact moment of the incident. Just something to keep in mind if visualizing the situation on-rig.

    – – – – EPU’d: – – – –

    Leave it to me to ask the obvious way down here in EPU-land yet again, but:

    (1) If the BOP was modified into a non-operable configuration, then who modified it and when was it modified?

    (2) If there was a hydraulic leak in the BOP, then what could have caused that leak, and when could it have occurred?

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