Cracks Show BP Was Battling Gulf Well as Early as February
By Alison Fitzgerald and Joe Carroll - Jun 17, 2010
BPPlc was struggling to seal cracks in its Macondo well as far back as February, morethan two months before an explosion killed 11 and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
It took 10 days to plug the first cracks, according to reports BP filed withtheMinerals Management Service that were later delivered to congressional
investigators. Cracks in the surrounding rock continued to complicate the drillingoperation during the ensuing weeks. Left unsealed, they can allow explosive naturalgas to rush up the shaft.
Once they realized they had oil down there, all the decisions they made were designed to get that oil at the lowestcost,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity,which has been working with congressional
investigators probing the disaster. “It’s been a doomed voyage from the beginning.”BP didn’t respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment. The company’s shares rose 22 pence to 359 pence today inLondon after the company struck a deal with the Obama administration yesterday to establish a $20 billion fund topay cleanup costs and compensation. BP has lost 45 percent of its market value since the catastrophe.On Feb. 13, BP told the minerals service it was trying to seal cracks in the well about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the
Louisiana coast, drilling documents obtained by Bloomberg show. Investigators are still trying to determine whetherthe fissures played a role in the disaster.
Cement Squeeze’The company attempted a “cement squeeze,” which involves pumping cement to seal the fissures, according to a wellactivity report. Over the following week the company made repeated attempts to plug cracks that were drainingexpensive drilling fluid, known as “mud,” into the surrounding rocks.BPused three different substances to plug the holes before succeeding, the documents show.
Most of the time you do a squeeze and then let it dry and you’re done,” said John Wang, an assistant professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania. “It dries within a few hours.”Repeated squeeze attempts are unusual and may indicate rig workers are using the wrong kind of cement, Wang said.Grappling EngineersBP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward and other top executives were ignorant of the difficulties the company’sengineers were grappling with in the well before the explosion, U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of theHouse Energy and Commerce Committee, said today during a hearing in Washington.
We could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risk BP was taking,” Waxman said asHayward waited to testify. “There is not a single e-mail or document that you paid the slightest attention to thedangers at this well.”BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles and exploration chief Andy Inglis “were apparently oblivious to what washappening,” said Waxman, a California Democrat. “BP’s corporate complacency is astonishing.”In early March, BP told the minerals agency the company was having trouble maintaining control of surging naturalgas, according to e-mails released May 30 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating thespill.Gas Surges While gas surges are common in oil drilling, companies have abandoned wells if they determine the risk is too high. When a Gulf well known as Blackbeard threatened to blow out in 2006,Exxon Mobil Corp.shut the project down.
We don’t proceed if we cannot do so safely,” Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillersontold a House Energy and
Commerce committee panel on June 15.On March 10, BP executive Scherie Douglas e-mailed Frank Patton, the mineral service’s drilling engineer for theNew Orleans district, telling him: “We’re in the midst of a well control situation.”
The Transocean Ltd. Development Driller IIIplatform, leased by BP Plc, works to drill arelief well at the BP Deepwater Horizon oilspill site. Photographer: Derick E.Hingle/Bloomberg