Agencies discuss access to Deepwater Horizon BOP

(Story updated Nov. 10, see last two paragraphs)

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Nov. 9 -- The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and a federal Joint Investigation Team (JIT) are discussing who gets direct access during a forensic analysis of the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible’s failed blowout preventer.

An Apr. 20 blowout of BP PLC’s deepwater Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 resulted in a fire and explosion on Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 workers. A massive oil spill resulted in the Gulf of Mexico, and investigators are trying to figure out why the BOP failed.

Previously, the US Department of the Interior hired Det Norske Veritas (USA) Inc. to conduct the BOP forensic testing on the Deepwater Horizon BOP and lower marine riser package at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Michoud Assembly facility in New Orleans. The forensic testing awaits finalization of BOP testing protocols.

JIT represents the US Coast Guard and the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement. JIT previously received a report deadline extension and now is scheduled to issue its report on the drilling accident and resulting oil spill on Mar. 27, 2011 (OGJ, Nov. 1, 2010, Newsletter).

As of midday Nov. 9, CSB said it had not received a response from DOI and BOEMRE regarding various issues that were discussed in a Nov. 5 conference call.

On Nov. 1, JIT selected which companies and agencies are to be represented on a six-member Level 3 technical working group that will observe the forensic analysis as it is being performed. In addition, there is a Level 2 group whose members will watch the process on closed-circuit television.

Members of the Level 3 working group will be consulted by the forensic examiner if there are any decisions that must be made during the analysis that were not foreseen in a final test plan.

JIT has said the Level 3 working group will include one expert each from Cameron International, Transocean, BP, the US Department of Justice, an expert representing plaintiffs in lawsuits, and an expert nominated by CSB. Cameron manufactured the BOP.
CSB has requested two slots for the Level 3 working group. In June, the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked CSB to investigate causes of the Macondo well blowout and the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

“We need for the CSB investigation to operate independently of JIT while of course cooperating in every way to avoid duplication or delays,” a CSB spokeswoman told OGJ on Nov. 9. CSB is an independent agency that acts separately from investigations by other US government agencies.

CSB Investigator Donald Holmstrom wrote DNV on Nov. 4 asking for written assurance that DNV will take special care to preserve from alternation or destruction the BOP and any other tangible objects recovered from or related to the Deepwater Horizon to which DNV may have access.

A source familiar with the negotiations who was not authorized to speak on the record on behalf of the JIT, said Nov. 10 that the JIT was committed to preserving, securing, and examining the evidence in accordance with standards developed in consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“In carrying out these responsibilities, the JIT has been open and transparent to interagency partners and the public,” the source said. “This has included cooperating closely with the CSB…. It is imperative that the investigation into the BP oil spill continue in a timely fashion in order to hold the responsible parties fully accountable for this unprecedented disaster.”


Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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