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Thursday, October 28, 2010
Tests Warned of Cement Troubles Before BP Blowout
Tests warned of cement troubles before BP blowout
By DINA CAPPIELLO - Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Tests performed before the deadly blowout of BP's oil well in the Gulf of Mexico should have raised doubts about the cement used to seal the well, but the company and its cementing contractor used it anyway, investigators with the president's oil spill commission said Thursday.
It's the first finding from the commission looking into the causes of the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. And it appears to conflict with statements made by Halliburton Co., which has said its tests showed the cement mix was stable. The company instead has said BP's well design and operations were responsible for the disaster.
The cement mix's failure to prevent oil and gas from entering the well has been identified by BP and others as one of the causes of the accident.
Patrick Semansky, File
AP Photo - FILE - In a Sept. 4, 2010 file photo, The Transocean Development Driller II, left, which is assisting in the drilling of the Deepwater Horizon relief well, floats near support vessels on the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana. The federal government has set up a security zone around the wreckage site of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which lies on the sea floor about 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast after it exploded and sank in April, leading to the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.The Justice Department said Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 that the zone extends 750 feet in all directions from the rig and its debris field.
Gerald Herbert, File
AP Photo - FILE - In this April 21, 2010 file aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning. Tests performed before the deadly blowout of BP's oil well in the Gulf of Mexico should have raised doubts about the cement used to seal the well, but the company and its cementing contractor used it anyway, U.S. investigators with the president's oil spill commission said Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010.
Tests before oil rig explosion showed faulty cement, panel says
Weeks before the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, oil company BP and subcontractor Halliburton learned that tests had shown the cement mixture designed to seal the well was unstable, but they continued to use it anyway, President Barack Obama's special commission investigating the environmental disaster reported Thursday.
The cement mixture is used to secure the metal casing around the string of pipes and the drill bit as they penetrate the reservoirs of oil and gas lying deep beneath the ocean floor. Cement also is supposed to keep oil and gas from pushing back up the well, causing a blowout.
After running independent tests on the particular cement mix Halliburton used and reviewing the company's documents, the commission's chief counsel sent a letter to commission members saying that BP and Halliburton had information about problems with the cement mix they were using in the well but did nothing about it.
Houston-based Halliburton knew that the cement it was using to seal BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well was likely to be unstable, but it didn't tell BP or act on the information itself before the well blew up on April 20, the staff of the presidential commission investigating the disaster reported Thursday.
In a letter to the commission's seven members, the staff said the failure of the cement was a key factor in the blowout, which resulted in millions of barrels of crude oil escaping into the Gulf of Mexico in a torrent that went largely unchecked for three months.
But the staff also took pains to point out that unstable cement wasn't the sole factor - or even the most crucial one - in the well's failure. That blame, the letter said, belongs to BP and Transocean, the company that BP had hired to drill the well.
Report: Halliburton knew BP well's cement likely unstable
WASHINGTON — Houston-based Halliburton knew that the cement it was using to seal BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well was likely to be unstable, but it didn't tell BP or act on the information internally before the well blew up April 20, the staff of the presidential commission that's investigating the disaster reported Thursday.
In a letter to the commission's seven members, the staff says the failure of the cement was a key factor in the blowout, which resulted in millions of barrels of crude oil escaping into the Gulf of Mexico in a torrent that went largely unchecked for three months.
But the staff also took pains to point out that unstable cement wasn't the sole factor _ or even the most crucial one _ in the well's failure. That blame, the letter says, belongs to BP and Transocean, the company that BP had hired to drill the well.
BP investigation cites multiple failures, but not well's design
WASHINGTON — A BP internal investigation released Wednesday concludes that eight key factors contributed to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, including a poor cement job by Halliburton and the failure by Transocean workers to notice for 40 minutes that oil and gas were gushing into the well.
BP's probe acknowledges that a key BP official aboard the rig misinterpreted a critical pressure test and then mistakenly authorized the removal of heavy drilling mud — the only impediment to gas and crude oil surging up the well's drill pipe — before the well's integrity was confirmed.
The investigation concluded, however, that the well's design was sound and didn't contribute to the explosion, which killed 11 rig workers and sent more than four million barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf over nearly three months — the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
BP, Transocean, Halliburton will blame one another for spill
WASHINGTON — Top executives from three companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster will face a barrage of questions on Tuesday from angry senators eager to make it clear they intend to hold someone responsible for a blowout that killed 11 and continues to spew 210,000 gallons of oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico
But it's also clear the three companies will have another source of finger-pointing — each other.
In testimony released Monday before the first of Tuesday's two Senate hearings, the executives, from BP America, which owned the well, Tansocean Ltd., which owned the rig, and Halliburton, a contractor on the rig, blame other companies for the as-yet-undetermined cause of the explosion.
BP and Halliburton decided to use a foam slurry created by injecting nitrogen into cement to secure the bottom of the well, a decision outside experts have criticized.
The panel said that of four tests done in February and April by Halliburton, only one - the last - showed the mix would hold. But the results of that single successful test were not shared with BP, and may not have reached Halliburton, before the cement was pumped, according to a letter sent to commissioners Thursday by chief investigative counsel Fred H. Bartlit Jr.
BP had in hand at the time of the blowout the results of only one of the tests - a February analysis sent to BP by Halliburton in a March 8 e-mail that indicated the cement could fail. The slurry tested in that case was a slightly different blend, and assumed a slightly different well design, but there is no indication that Halliburton flagged the problem for BP, or that BP had concerns, the letter said.
"Halliburton (and perhaps BP) should have considered redesigning the foam slurry before pumping it at the Macondo well," Bartlit wrote.
Independent tests conducted for the commission by Chevron on a nearly identical mixture were also released Thursday. The results concluded that the cement mix was unstable, raising questions about the validity of Halliburton's final test.
BP, as part of its internal investigation, also conducted independent tests that showed the cement mix was flawed, but its analysis was criticized by Halliburton, which said it was not the correct formula. BP's report also mentioned a cement test Halliburton performed in mid-April, but it appears BP obtained the results after the accident and considered its methods flawed.
By contrast, the commission obtained proprietary additives from Halliburton as well as a recipe to re-create the slurry that was used on the well. One and a half gallons of the actual mix used on the rig remain, but it is being held as evidence in criminal and civil investigations.
A spokeswoman for Halliburton said the company was reviewing the findings and would have a response later. BP said it would not have a comment on the panel's conclusions Thursday.
Halliburton shares dropped from near $34 to below $30 in New York trading in the half hour after the commission released its finding. The shares recovered a bit, and closed at $31.68, down $2.74, or 8 percent. BP shares rose from $40.38 to $41.28, then quickly reversed course and fell to $40.28. The shares finished trading with a gain of 49 cents at $40.59.
In testimony before the joint Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management investigative panel, Halliburton engineer Jesse Gagliano, when asked if he would pour the same cement again, said he would. Thomas Roth, a vice president at the company, said before a panel assembled by the National Academy of Engineering in September that Halliburton had used foam cement on 1,000 jobs, including 279 wells at 15,000 feet or deeper.
Roth faulted BP's well design and BP's decision not to run a test to confirm the cement had set properly. He also said Halliburton's cement could have been contaminated by the oil-based muds BP used to drill the well. Such contamination can form channels in the cement through which oil and gas can escape.
The independent investigators do not address other decisions that could have contributed to the cement's failure and the eventual blowout, such as BP's decision to use fewer centralizers than recommended by Halliburton. Centralizers make sure the well's piping is centered inside the well so the cement bonds correctly.
BP has also been criticized for not performing a cement bond long, a test that checks after the cement is pumped down whether it is secure. There are also questions about whether BP pumped down enough cement to seal off the bottom of the well, which was located more than three miles below sea level.
Associated Press writer Harry R. Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Presidential Oil Spill Commission: http://www.oilspillcommission.gov