Saturday, July 10, 2010

On responsibility for workplace accidents,

The root cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the subsequent gusher is bad management.

I believe we need to keep drilling offshore but it needs to be done safely.

It is clear from the initial inquiry that officers (not just managers but a Captain who supposedly is responsible for the safety of the ship and crew) of the Deepwater Horizon, who should have said no to BP managers or to their own managers at Transocean, did not. I know the other majors seem to be safer than BP but they use Transocean also and if Transocean can't say no to BP then they may not be able to say no to their other clients.

Does this call for new regulations? Maybe but what really needs to happen is that those responsible for the day to day management of these rigs and other dangerous workplaces need to be held personally accountable.

I know that may seem unfair to some but it would have saved lives on the Deepwater Horizon, at the Upper Big Branch Mine and at hundreds or thousands of other workplaces where people are killed or injured (See note at bottom for BLS statistics). On site managers need to know that if they don’t enforce safety regulations and use common sense about dangerous workplaces then they will be punished! If the day to day managers know that they might go to jail then they might have more incentive to say no to their bosses when they’re pressured to cut corners. Blaming the an offsite boss for something that was done onsite, because you were afraid of losing your job or not getting promoted, is tantamount to saying, “I was just following orders”.

Note about workplace fatalities.

According to the Bureau if Labor Statistics a total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2008. Although the number of fatal injuries in oil and gas drilling only account for 2.3% (120 fatalities) of the total the historical trends are very troubling. Over the five-year period of 2004-2008 in the three states, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, where the majority of oil and gas drilling fatalities have occurred, fatal work injuries have increased 91 percent, 21 percent and 30 percent respectively.

Sometimes I think they are doing this just to annoy me!

Questions and comments about BP’s response

Why didn't BP do what it is doing now, installing a valve on top of the blowout preventer (BOP), immediately after it was clear that the BOP was not functioning? It would have meant a few days of higher flow and then the well would have been shut down or at least under better control.

I watched the cutting of the riser pipe and the installation of the LMRP and it was extremely frustrating to see how BP and its contractors ran into problems that would they would have known about if they had done a dry run on the deck of one of the workboats.

Why didn’t BP have more collection capacity on site once they did install the LMRP?

That floating riser they are implementing is pretty neat. My question is why all the deep wells don’t have that as a matter of course? In a previous exploration accident, Thunder Horse, a very similar accident to this one occurred but the BOP worked. Transocean and BP still had to deal with the debris from the fallen riser fouling the sea floor around the well head. If all these rigs were required to have floating riser/drill strings then if there was a kick and the drill ship had to disconnect then you would be dealing with something at say 200 feet and not 5000 feet.

One reason why I find this situation so infuriating is that I am an out of work engineer who is always being told that I don't have the experience needed to work in a field that I have not worked in before, like oil and gas, and yet I see the supposed experts mismanaging what should have been clear cut response.