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BP’s Atlantis: Will It Cause a Catastrophic Accident in the Gulf of Mexico?

BP’s Atlantis: Will It Cause a Catastrophic Accident in the Gulf of Mexico?

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BP has repeatedly skirted the law in developing the Atlantis project. This situation could lead to an unprecedented disaster in the Gulf, because hurricanes create incredible stress on the welds that are critical for containing oil and gas under high pressure far beneath the surface of the ocean. Internal BP documents characterize the situation as having the potential for “catastrophic operator errors.”
BP has repeatedly skirted the law in developing the Atlantis project. This situation could lead to an unprecedented disaster in the Gulf, because hurricanes create incredible stress on the welds that are critical for containing oil and gas under high pressure far beneath the surface of the ocean. Internal BP documents characterize the situation as having the potential for “catastrophic operator errors.”

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Published by: Food and Water Watch on Jul 08, 2009
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BP’s Atlantis: Will It Cause a Catastrophic Accident in the Gulf of Mexico?
Why does the Atlantis pose a serious,immediate and potentially irreparablethreat to the Gulf of Mexico’s marineenvironment, oil workers andcommunities?
BP has repeatedly skirted the law in developing the At-lantis project. BP’s own database from November 2008shows that it does not have the required engineeringcertification for 85 percent of the project’s subsea pipingand instrument diagrams and many of its safety shut-down systems’ logic diagrams. More than 6,000 docu-ments that should have required engineering approval— including those for pipelines, flowlines, wellheads,and other important systems — do not have the requiredengineering documentation. Over 95 percent of its subsea welding specifications have no final engineering approvaland undersea manifolds have already been leaking. Thissituation could lead to an unprecedented disaster in theGulf, because hurricanes create incredible stress on the welds that are critical for containing oil and gas underhigh pressure far beneath the surface of the ocean. Inter-nal BP documents characterize the situation as having thepotential for “catastrophic operator errors.”
Which federal agency is responsible forregulating offshore drilling and whyhasn’t it taken action?
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Mineral ManagementServices (MMS) is the primary federal agency responsiblefor ensuring that all aspects of oil, gas, leasing, explora-tion, development and production activities are conduct-ed safely. Unfortunately, the agency has not been respon-sive to concerns about the Atlantis. The project becameactive during the Bush Administration’s tenure and beganoperating in October 2007. See the Food & Water Watchletter to the agency on page 2.
What can I do?
Tell Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to launch animmediate investigation and, given the seriousness of thesituation, immediately suspend production at the Atlan-tis. Ask your member of Congress to call for oversighthearings on MMS regarding the regulation of the Atlantisand what role the Bush Administration played in allowingBP to operate the platform without proper safety docu-mentation. Visit www.foodandwaterwatch.org/press formore information.
What is the Atlantis?
The Atlantis is the deepest moored semi-submersible oil and gas platform in the world. Located in “hurricane alley,”more than 150 miles off the coast of New Orleans at a water depth of more than 7,000 feet, the Atlantis weighs 58,700metric tons and has a production capacity of 8.4 million gallons of oil and 180 million cubic feet of gas a day. Accord-ing to Andy Inglis, BP’s chief executive of exploration and production, “the water depths and reservoir structure make Atlantis among the most technologically challenging developments undertaken by BP.”
FISH
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Secretary Ken SalazarDepartment of the Interior1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240Liz BirnbaumDirectorMinerals Management ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240July 8, 2009Dear Secretary Salazar and Director Birnbaum: On behalf of Food & Water Watch (FWW), a non-profitconsumer organization that works to protect the food sup-ply, clean water, and ocean resources, I write this letterto express our grave concerns about new information we have learned about the British Petroleum Atlantis Oil andGas production platform (BP Atlantis). We urge MMS to suspend the platform’s production immediately so that theagency can complete an investigation and prevent a catastrophic failure. First producing oil in 2007, the BP Atlantis is the largest moored floating dual oil- and gas-production facility in the world. It has a production capacity of 8.4 million gallons of oil and 180 million cubic feet of gas a day.It has come to FWW’s attention that a company database shows the platform lacks a large percentage of engineer-ap-proved and up-to-date documents for its subsea equipment, notwithstanding that the platform has been operating formore than a year and a half. These vital drawings are necessary for the project’s safe operation and maintenance. Forexample, we understand that the platform lacks a large percentage of “issued for design,” “issued for construction,”and “as built” subsea piping and instrument diagrams (P&IDs). It is our understanding that such P&IDs demonstratethe interconnection of subsea piping and control instrumentation and that they are significant because they illustratethe physical sequence of equipment and systems. Such schemes are the basis for hazard and operability analyses(HAZOP), which are required to maintain safe systems. It has come to FWW’s attention that database shows that 85%of the platform Atlantis’s subsea P&IDs have no engineering approval whatsoever. This raises serious questions, suchas how the facility can verify that its HAZOP analyses are reliable.  As another example, FWW understands that the database shows that over 95% of the platform’s subsea-welding speci-fications have no final engineering approval. The organization has also been told that the platform lacks approval forclose to 90% of other critical subsea engineering documents. FWW is very concerned that the apparent lack of final, engineer-approved documentation may mean that the plat-form has serious design problems. The organization also fears that these deficiencies increase the risk of catastrophicoperator errors, leading to harm to platform workers, the marine environment, and local fishing communities. Forexample, the company’s failure to document all actual work performed could result in such a seemingly minor mistakeas installing a valve backwards; yet this allegedly caused the near sinking of the BP Thunder Horse Platform. (See im-age on the next page.) Indeed, last fall, BP staff drew the same conclusion about the risk of catastrophic error from theincomplete documentation.These deficiencies are especially disconcerting because our nation is 37 days into hurricane season. This year, theNational Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 70 percent chance of between nine and 14 namedtropical storms. Four to seven of these could become hurricanes, with as many as three reaching the category threelevel or higher. Tropical storms can wreak havoc on energy platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, posing serious harm tothe marine environment and the local fishing communities that rely on it. For example, in 2008, 60 platforms weredestroyed as a result of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The Associated Press reported at least 448 releases of oil, gaso-line, and other substances in Louisiana and Texas as a result of Hurricane Ike. The worst spill identified was nearly 266,000 gallons of oil released from a battery of storage tanks on Goat Island, Texas. All of this damage pales incomparison to that caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which destroyed 113 platforms, and during which 9 milliongallons of oil were released from six major and five medium-sized spills.
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