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Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer failed due to pipe buckling, CSB finds

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The Chemical Safety Board released a report today from Houston that says the blowout preventer (BOP) that was supposed to shut off the gush of oil and gas from the Macondo well Apr. 20, 2010 failed because a "drill pipe buckled for reasons the offshore drilling industry remains largely unaware of."

The CSB says on its website today that the BOP caused explosions and a fire on the rig, reminding that 11 personnel aboard died and 17 others endured serious injuries. "Nearly 100 others escaped from the burning rig, which sank two days later, leaving the Macondo well spewing oil and gas into Gulf waters for a total of 87 days."

Readers of this column may recall that following the mammoth BP oil spill that spring, Retired Admiral Thad Allen, who was brought in to helm the relief effort before abruptly re-retiring after its sealing, seemed to be experiencing one challenge after another trying to seal Macondo. Communication from the Coast Guard often felt stymied by a fog of misinformation, or at least conflicting information.

Finally, by the second week of September, the blowout preventer was apparently sealed and transported for examination, about the same time BP issued a 193-page report on its findings. This examiner participated in on a press call with Admiral. Allen Sept. 9, 2010.

I asked him about why BP would issue the report so soon, given the ongoing mystery surrounding what had happened to the well and the BOP. I questioned the timing of BP's issuance of the report , which indicated that it was likely they and Transocean staff did not correctly interpret a pressure test, and said that while they had disregarded Halliburton's request for more centralizers, the lack of these probably did not affect the cement's integrity. BP released this report before the BOP even had a chance to be delivered by NASA and be examined.

Allen said that all information was helpful, and that even so there would be more to come out in the future, no doubt. After all, the BOP had finally been drudged up from the Gulf of Mexico.

And indeed, today's CSB report provides that new information, or at least some of it.

Apparently, the pipe buckling likely occurred during the first minutes of the blowout. "Although other investigations had previously noted that the Macondo drill pipe was found in a bent or buckled state, this was assumed to have occurred days later, after the blowout was well underway," the CSB states.

Further, the CSB found that the BOP's blind shear ram, which is an emergency hydraulic device designed to seal an out-of-control well, likely activated on the night of the accident, earlier than other investigations had indicated. But, the pipe buckling that likely occurred on the night of Apr. 20 prevented the blind shear ram from functioning properly.

The report goes on to state that,

Instead of cleanly cutting and sealing the well's drill pipe, the shear ram actually punctured the buckled, off-center pipe, sending huge additional volumes of oil and gas surging toward the surface and initiating the 87-day-long oil and gas release into the Gulf that defied multiple efforts tobring it under control.

The examiner will be following this story and reporting again on any further developments.

To read the report by the CSB, please click here.

I will be at the Gulf Coast Restoration Summit in New Orleans Mon., Jun. 9. If readers have any questions you'd like addressed by officials, please submit them in the comments below or write to me at lauriewiegler@gmail.com.

Examiner: this story was edited to exclude portions of the transcript with Admiral Allen, which can be found here.

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