BP’s Well Failure Due to Effort to Save $10 Million?

Henry Waxman just put up a letter and a whole bunch of backup documents in preparation for a hearing with Tony Hayward Thursday. In it, he lists 5 shortcuts BP used in the days before the well explosion, all of them with real risks. But BP chose them to save money and time.

Well Design. On April 19, one day before the blowout, BP installed the final section of steel tubing in the well. BP had a choice of two primary options: it could lower a full string of “casing” from the top of the wellhead to the bottom of the well, or it could hang a “liner” from the lower end of the casing already in the well and install a “tieback” on top of the liner. The liner-tieback option would have taken extra time and was more expensive, but it would have been safer because it provided more barriers to the flow of gas up the annular space surrounding these steel tubes. A BP plan review prepared in mid-April recommended against the full string of casing because it would create “an open annulus to the wellhead” and make the seal assembly at the wellhead the “only barrier” to gas flow if the cement job failed. Despite this and other warnings, BP chose the more risky casing option, apparently because the liner option would have cost $7 to $10 million more and taken longer.

Centralizers. When the final string of casing was installed, one key challenge was making sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore. As the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended practices explain, if the casing is not centered, “it is difficult, if not impossible, to displace mud effectively from the narrow side of the annulus,” resulting in a failed cement job. Halliburton, the contractor hired by BP to cement the well, warned BP that the well could have a “SEVERE gas flow problem” if BP lowered the final string of casing with only six centralizers instead of the 21 recommended by Halliburton. BP rejected Halliburton’s advice to use additional centralizers. In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: ” it will take 10 hours to install them . .. . I do not like this.” Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: “who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.”

Cement Bond Log. BP’s mid-April plan review predicted cement failure, stating “Cement simulations indicate it is unlikely to be a successful cement job due to formation breakdown.” Despite this warning and Halliburton’s prediction of severe gas flow problems, BP did not run a 9- to 12-hour procedure called a cement bond log to assess the integrity of the cement seal. BP had a crew from Schlumberger on the rig on the morning of April 20 for the purpose of running a cement bond log, but they departed after BP told them their services were not needed. An independent expert consulted by the Committee called this decision “horribly negligent.”

Mud Circulation. In exploratory operations like the Macondo well, wells are generally filled with weighted mud during the drilling process. The American Petroleum Institute (API) recommends that oil companies fully circulate the drilling mud in the well from the bottom to the top before commencing the cementing process. Circulating the mud in the Macondo well could have taken as long as 12 hours, but it would have allowed workers on the rig to test the mud for gas influxes, to safely remove any pockets of gas, and to eliminate debris and condition the mud so as to prevent contamination of the cement. BP decided to forego this safety step and conduct only a partial circulation of the drilling mud before the cement job.

Lockdown Sleeve. Because BP elected to use just a single string of casing, the Macondo well had just two barriers to gas flow up the annular space around the final string of casing: the cement at the bottom of the well and the seal at the wellhead on the sea floor. The decision to use insufficient centralizers created a significant risk that the cement job would channel and fail, while the decision not to run a cement bond log denied BP the opportunity to assess the status of the cement job. These decisions would appear to make it crucial to ensure the integrity of the seal assembly that was the remaining barrier against an influx of hydrocarbons. Yet, BP did not deploy the casing hanger lockdown sleeve that would have prevented the seal from being blown out from below.

BP willfully ignored numerous warnings in an attempt to save $10 million here and there, and several days of time. And as a result, precisely what they were warned against happened, causing tens of billions of monetary damage and permanent environmental damage to the Gulf.

48 replies
  1. manys says:

    I’m just sitting back, waiting for BP to have created some subsidiary to sock all of this trouble away. With bmaz’ post about DoE calling some shots on the repair tells me that responsibility and liability is going to get very weedy indeed. Is Boehner tracking how many taxpayer-funded agencies are putting man-hours into this problem? I just have a feeling that if something goes wrong due to DoE action, BP will use that to hang everything else upon.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I’m just sitting back, waiting for BP to have created some subsidiary to sock all of this trouble away

      They may not have time. Tactically, they may have to file chapt 11 before the end of the month. The only thing stoppping them (I think) was their desire to pay a dividend before they needed court approval to do so. The $20B trust fund idea kinda killed that one, and I can’t think of many disadvantages to chapt 11 that BP is already suffering or going to suffer anyway.

      Boxturtle (Only remaining issue is making sure the MOTUs have moved their money around)

      • BoxTurtle says:

        that BP is isn’t already

        Ran out of edit time before I saw the above. Kinda makes a difference.

        Boxturtle (It’s easier blaming the edit function then my poor proofreading skills)

        • jayackroyd says:

          This is why you need strong regulatory authority for this kind of thing. Suits will insist that the absence of past disasters proves that this kind of thing is goldplated overengineering. Without a government agency saying “No, you WILL follow these safety rules,” the engineers will always, ultimately, lose the argument.

          Read Feynman’s story of the Challenger explosion. The engineers said don’t go, the suits said we have to. But the problem is more pervasive. The suits needed to believe (publicly) the odds of disaster were infinitesimal. The engineers at the JPL put the odds as on the order of any other experimental aerospace device, about one in a hundred risk of failure. Without oversight supporting the engineers, disaster will always result.

          (Which has proven to be right on the button, just btw.)

        • BoxTurtle says:

          kind of thing is goldplated overengineering

          The problem is that some of it IS goldplated. Engineers are by nature overly cautious, since the price for failure is normally a public display of stupidity and the reward for success is normally a hat/tshirt, a cake, and a certificate printed out on the office printer. So they want to overkill a problem and make SURE it’s fixed.

          Or Hali could be padding the bill. Most of that extra cost would be going to Hali. These Ferengi do prey on each other.

          Which only reinforces your point about strong regulatory authority.

          You know, if we had good strong regulations, we could hire Blackwater to enforce them. And pay them by the violation. I’m sure they could get people to tell them about unreported violations.

          Boxturtle (BAD Boxturtle! BAD!! BAD!!!. NO Strawberry!)

      • manys says:

        They may not have time. Tactically, they may have to file chapt 11 before the end of the month. The only thing stoppping them (I think) was their desire to pay a dividend before they needed court approval to do so.

        Here’s me, mulling whether the escrow account is actually going to evolve into the subsidiary that then goes bankrupt when the escrow (to whatever amount) is decided to have been depleted.

  2. GulfCoastPirate says:

    Why would Halliburton have gone along with this? Why didn’t they just walk off the job?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Because it was BP’s decision to make. If Halliburton wants more of BP’s business, they have to respect that.

      Besides, I doubt that this is the first time Halliburton safety suggestions have been overruled by BP cost and schedule concerns. There’s probably a been a policy in place specifying exactly the sort of written/verbal documentation BP must make. And BP probably has those forms ready to go.

      Boxturtle (Halli is likely worrying how well covered their butts are right now)

  3. prostratedragon says:

    And so dies the model of the rational agent making optimal decisions with complete knowledge of the tree of outcomes.

    How’s that stock price doing for you now, BP?

  4. cobernicus says:

    Excellent work by Rep. Waxman, but he left out another shortcut that BP took. They should have kept the riser in place and full of heavy weight mud until all of the testing was done. Instead, they filled it with seawater (less than 1/2 the weight of mud, i.e., <1/2 the pressure) in anticipation of a quick getaway (and no more rig fees) once the well was sealed off.

    Funny thing happened on the way to that event….

  5. prostratedragon says:

    Brian Morel, BP drilling engineer, on the acceptability of a reduced number of centralizers (Waxman letter, p.7):

    It’s a vertical hole, so hopefully the pipe stays centralized due to gravity.

    Can that statement be as bad as I think it is?

  6. onemore says:

    Yeah, i am sure The Waxman will get to bottom of this, just as he did
    no all his oversight hearings, good dog and pony show for progressives,
    then, boom, everything disappears. You progressives still fooled ???

  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Hey, anyone interested in the oil spill – KO has marine bio Riki Ott, PhD, on as a guest (woot!).

    She was an FDL Book Salon guest one time, and has a phenomenal mastery of the ExxonValdez spill. She’s a former commercial salmon fisherperson, so she sees the spill matrix of issues from multiple points of view.

    What Riki Ott says about potential BP information control — well… makes me wonder whether BP has contracted with spooks at Blackwater to vaporize emails, images of oil-drenched wildlife, and attempt to ‘spin’ the chemical poisoning of US citizens.


    And EW, if you have any influence with Rachel Maddow, for Chrissake please tell her **not** to report down there again without wearing a respirator!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Crikey!

  8. allan says:

    “who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.”

    Wow. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.

    • Hmmm says:

      Apologies for the crosspost, but it seems apropos:

      So the latest BP-provided estimate is 80,000 barrels captured per day? Let’s do a little math, shall we?

      Let’s make a generous estimate: They’re capturing 20% of the total escaping oil (upwell + ocean floor seepage)

      That would make the total out per day 80,000 / 20% = 400,000 barrels per day out of the ground

      Less the 80,000 captured, that would mean 320,000 barrels per day spilled into the Gulf

      The Exxon Valdez totalled 257,000 barrels spilled over the entire incident.

      320,000 barrels spilled per day at Macondo = 1.25 Exxon Valdezes per day.

      With no end in sight.

      The biosphere is so fucked.

  9. justmeint says:

    As I understand it, for every barrel of oil spewed out – lost – poured out in a disaster, a fine will be imposed. It would seem that this knowledge has been behind the reason BP initially downplayed the estimate of oil at 5000 barrels per day. Now that a tally can be kept of what is being piped aboard the other rig and boats that will store, for processing, this oil, a better estimate of the fines accruing can be made.

    This will not of course include all the millions of barrels of oil BP has dispersed – via the use of toxic chemicals – into the waters of the gulf, and possibly worldwide!

    I mean if you can’t see it, you can’t count it – so therefore it isn’t there coz YOU can’t prove it!


  10. thatvisionthing says:

    From early May — don’t know if this ever had legs or not:

    Slick Operator: The BP I’ve Known Too Well
    Wednesday 05 May 2010
    by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

    This just in: Becnel [Louisiana lawyer Daniel Becnel Jr. represents oil workers on those platforms; now, he’ll represent their bereaved families] tells me that one of the platform workers has informed him that the BP well was apparently deeper than the 18,000 feet depth reported. BP failed to communicate that additional depth to Halliburton crews, who, therefore, poured in too small a cement cap for the additional pressure caused by the extra depth. So, it blew.

    Why didn’t Halliburton check? “Gross negligence on everyone’s part,” said Becnel. Negligence driven by penny-pinching, bottom-line squeezing. BP says its worker is lying.

    • fatster says:

      The protestors won! Link at EW’s next post (Briefing Congress and Destroying Torture Tapes).

      • thatvisionthing says:

        Thanks fatster, Jeff Kaye already has it at the Seminal, I linked to you :-)

        (but what a piddly AP story, considering the characters and story they had to work with)

  11. Hmmm says:

    Anybody hearing anything about the POTUS address tomorrow night? Saw a couple hints today this would be the rollout of a new national energy independence program ala Project Apollo, and the other day there was a suggestion of a Gulf Cleanup Jobs Program. (Of course my skepticism is intact.)

  12. Hmmm says:

    BBC Foreign Service just reported BP’s retained 3 investment banks and has denied they’ve been tasked with fending off hostile takeovers. Tonybaby sez he thinks BP will survive “in one form or another” despite the emerging recognition of this as “the Chernobyl of the petroleum industry”. Hmmm.

  13. cwolf says:

    An independent expert consulted by the Committee called this decision “horribly negligent.”

    Uhmmm,,, Negligence is like when you forget to check the coolant in the car radiator.

    What Brit Petrol did is more like Willful, reckless disregard for human life.

  14. bobschacht says:

    Lt. General Honore on CNN tonight calling for “World War 3” on the Gulf, saying that the Gulf disaster is a greater threat to national security than Iraq or Afghanistan. I kinda like that way of thinking.

    But CNN did not mention that it happens that Honore is running for elected office.

    Bob in AZ

    • fatster says:

      Didja know, they now package it in convenient cardboard boxes with a handy screw-off top? Check it out!

  15. fatster says:

    The revolt has begun.

    Okaloosa defies Unified Command over East Pass plans
    “County commissioners voted unanimously to give their emergency management team the power to take whatever action it deems necessary to prevent oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill from entering Choctawhatchee Bay through the East Pass.”


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