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


BP’s Atlantis: Will It Cause a Catastrophic Accident in the Gulf of Mexico?
Fact Sheet • July 2009
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 58,700 metric tons and has a production capacity of 8.4 million gallons of oil and 180 million cubic feet of gas a day. According 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.”

Why does the Atlantis pose a serious, immediate and potentially irreparable threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s marine environment, oil workers and communities?
BP has repeatedly skirted the law in developing the Atlantis project. BP’s own database from November 2008 shows that it does not have the required engineering certification for 85 percent of the project’s subsea piping and instrument diagrams and many of its safety shutdown systems’ logic diagrams. More than 6,000 documents that should have required engineering approval — including those for pipelines, flowlines, wellheads, and other important systems — do not have the required engineering documentation. Over 95 percent of its subsea welding specifications have no final engineering approval and undersea manifolds have already been leaking. 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.”

ed safely. Unfortunately, the agency has not been responsive to concerns about the Atlantis. The project became active during the Bush Administration’s tenure and began operating in October 2007. See the Food & Water Watch letter to the agency on page 2.

What can I do?
Tell Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to launch an immediate investigation and, given the seriousness of the situation, immediately suspend production at the Atlantis. Ask your member of Congress to call for oversight hearings on MMS regarding the regulation of the Atlantis and what role the Bush Administration played in allowing BP to operate the platform without proper safety documentation. Visit www.foodandwaterwatch.org/press for more information.

Which federal agency is responsible for regulating offshore drilling and why hasn’t it taken action?
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Mineral Management Services (MMS) is the primary federal agency responsible for ensuring that all aspects of oil, gas, leasing, exploration, development and production activities are conduct-

An unnamed oil platform. Photo by Vee TEC/ Stock.Xchng

Secretary Ken Salazar Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240 Liz Birnbaum Director Minerals Management Service U.S. Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240 July 8, 2009 Dear Secretary Salazar and Director Birnbaum: On behalf of Food & Water Watch (FWW), a non-profit consumer organization that works to protect the food supply, clean water, and ocean resources, I write this letter to express our grave concerns about new information we have learned about the British Petroleum Atlantis Oil and Gas production platform (BP Atlantis). We urge MMS to suspend the platform’s production immediately so that the agency 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-approved and up-to-date documents for its subsea equipment, notwithstanding that the platform has been operating for more than a year and a half. These vital drawings are necessary for the project’s safe operation and maintenance. For example, 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 demonstrate the interconnection of subsea piping and control instrumentation and that they are significant because they illustrate the 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, such as 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 specifications have no final engineering approval. The organization has also been told that the platform lacks approval for close 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 platform has serious design problems. The organization also fears that these deficiencies increase the risk of catastrophic operator errors, leading to harm to platform workers, the marine environment, and local fishing communities. For example, the company’s failure to document all actual work performed could result in such a seemingly minor mistake as installing a valve backwards; yet this allegedly caused the near sinking of the BP Thunder Horse Platform. (See image on the next page.) Indeed, last fall, BP staff drew the same conclusion about the risk of catastrophic error from the incomplete documentation. These deficiencies are especially disconcerting because our nation is 37 days into hurricane season. This year, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 70 percent chance of between nine and 14 named tropical storms. Four to seven of these could become hurricanes, with as many as three reaching the category three level or higher. Tropical storms can wreak havoc on energy platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, posing serious harm to the marine environment and the local fishing communities that rely on it. For example, in 2008, 60 platforms were destroyed as a result of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The Associated Press reported at least 448 releases of oil, gasoline, 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 in comparison to that caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which destroyed 113 platforms, and during which 9 million gallons of oil were released from six major and five medium-sized spills.

Photo by StockXpert.

Oil is toxic to the plants and animals at the base of the marine food chain. It also sickens and kills birds, mammals, and fish. Oil spills can severely harm coastal economies, including the country’s $32 billion commercial fishing and $60 billion ocean and coastal tourism and recreation industries. Given the extent of the platform Atlantis’s apparent lack of documentation, and the serious dangers that can result from operating without it, we urge MMS to launch an immediate investigation, pursuant to 30 C.F.R. § 250.193 (2008). MMS should examine whether the platform presently possesses a complete set of “as built” certified engineering documents for the entire project including the subsea portions of the project. The platform’s apparent documentation failures seem to violate MMS regulations including those requiring compiling and retaining “as built” documents for the life of the project. See e.g., 30 C.F.R. § 250.903 (a)(1) (2008). If the company now claims to have proper documentation, we ask that MMS obtain copies and have them verified by independent experts. While this investigation is being completed, we urge MMS to order an immediate suspension of the platform’s production, as authorized under the 30 C.F.R. § 250.172 (2008), because the continued production of the platform “poses a threat of serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage . . . to life[,] []including fish and other aquatic life[], property, . . [and] the marine, coastal, or human environment.” We understand that this information was first reported to the Department earlier this spring. Therefore, FWW also asks to be kept informed about the status of all past, current, and future Department activities to investigate the platform’s documentation failures. We appreciate your time and attention dedicated to this very important matter. Sincerely, Wenonah Hauter Executive Director Food & Water Watch For more information: web: www.foodandwaterwatch.org email: info@fwwatch.org phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA) Copyright © July 2009 Food & Water Watch

Platform Thunder Horse after Hurricane Dennis. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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