Macondo well BOP examination compromised, CSB chief tells Bromwich

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 27 -- The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board can’t meaningfully examine the Macondo well’s blowout preventer as long as the BOP’s owner, Transocean Ltd., and manufacturer, Cameron International Inc., “have been granted unique access to the testing process,” CSB told the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.

“Given the well-publicized history of improper relationships between the former Minerals Management Service and members of the oil industry, one would have expected that extraordinary care would be taken to conduct the BOP testing above reproach,” CSB Chairman Raphael Moure-Eraso said in a Dec. 23 letter to BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich.

“One would have expected an independent, second set of eyes like [CSB] to be welcomed. Regrettably, this has not been the case,” he continued.

A US Department of the Interior spokeswoman told OGJ by e-mail Dec. 27 the CSB chairman’s letter, “which was sent to reporters before it was sent to us in the afternoon of [Dec. 23] before a federal holiday, will be responded to in due course as has every other letter.”

Moure-Eraso said problems that CSB investigators have observed are endemic in the testing’s design and management. He said problems range from the selection of Norwegian certification organization Det Norske Veritas (DNV) as lead examiner, to “the excessive and disturbing access of multiple Cameron and Transocean personnel to the equipment itself, which continues to this day,” and to a systematic exclusion of CSB from any meaningful testing role.

DNV’s earlier work
The joint investigation team (JIT) from the US Coast Guard and Department of the Interior jointly contracted with DNV on Oct. 6 to lead the examination of the recovered BOP from the deepwater Gulf of Mexico oil well which blew out and exploded on Apr. 20, killing 11 persons. CSB previously expressed concerns about DNV’s selection because the Norwegian firm audited the Deepwater Horizon’s safety in 2007 and was a consultant to Transocean on BOPs’ efficacy, Moure-Eraso said in his letter.

“In addition, DOI could be perceived as having its own interest in the outcome of the testing because of [its] previous role in overseeing the safety of the drilling rig and effectiveness of the BOP,” he said. The JIT previously stated that they respect CSB’s interest in evaluating the BOP stack as part of its independent investigation, “yet the BOP examination process is being carried out in a manner that favors potentially liable parties over [CSB’s] independent investigators,” he added.

Moure-Eraso said Transocean and Cameron personnel must be removed from any hands-on role in the BOP’s examination immediately; the contract with DNV needs to be terminated or modified to place any DNV employees conducting the examination under a neutral third party’s supervision; all technical working group members should receive a full narrative and photo and video documentation of activities and changes involving the BOP when they were not present; and full resolution photo and video documentation to technical working group members should not exclude CSB.

“Finally, the CSB, JIT, and other interested parties must agree to the appointment of a neutral third party to supervise examination of the BOP, or a court of competent jurisdiction should designate a special master to oversee the impartiality and fairness of the examination,” he maintained.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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