This research aims to investigate the BP Macondo Blowout of April 2010. It begins with a general overview of the incident; it then analyses the chain of actions and in-actions that preceded the Macondo explosion, focusing on the technical, managerial and the regulatory failures that contributed to the oil spill and fire explosion. It provides recommendations to improve safety culture in the offshore oil and gas industry and prevent future occurrences.
The Macondo blowout happened as a result of a combination of separate risk factors, negligence and oversights to engulf the barriers meant to prevent such an occurrence. There were a number of technical risk factors in the design, execution, and testing of the Macondo well. In all, management failure was responsible for the myriads of technical glitches that contributed to the Macondo blowout.
As can be seen with the BP incident, accidents in the oil and gas industry can have severe consequences. Rig accidents may result in loss of lives, environmental pollution, damage to company reputation and legal implications such as lawsuit court cases, fines and even jail time. The Macondo disaster also cost BP a lot of money on hefty fines.
Operators and its contractors should strive to maintain a culture of safety and promote policies and procedures that proactively seek to address health, safety and environment and risks associated with deepwater drilling.
The Macondo well was located on Mississippi Canyon block 252 (MC 252). The rig was situated approximately 52 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is the operator of Block 252. Out of the 126-member crew the rig, only seven were BP employees. Anadarko Petroleum and MOEX Offshore were BP’s partners at Macondo. Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon rig and executed the drilling of the Macondo well when it caught fire. The Transocean crews. Halliburton was in charge of the cementing operation. Other contractors and suppliers at Macondo include Schlumberger, Weatherford, Cameron and Dril-Quip ((Offshore Technology, 2018; National Commission Report, 2011).
1.1 The Macondo Incident
The BP Deepwater Horizon accident, known as “Macondo Blowout” happened on April 22, 2010. 126-member crew was onboard the rig. BP and Transocean lost control of the well, resulting in an undetected kick, then a blowout – the uncontrolled influx of formation fluids (oil and gas) from the well to the surface. A sudden explosion and fire occurred on the rig leading to the deaths of 11 workers, severe physical injuries to 17 crew members, the sinking of the Ultra-Deepwater Floater Deepwater Horizon (U.S. Chemical Safety Board, 2016). Approximately 4 million barrels of crude oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico of which 810,000 barrels were collected at the wellhead (United States District Court Eastern District of Louisiana, 2016).
This research reviews variety of reports written by professionals within the industry, official investigations and perspectives regarding the Macondo incident. These reports include those by the:
National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Report to the President. January 2011
Deepwater Horizon Study Group, BP
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
3.0 Findings and Conclusions
3.1 Technical Findings
a) BP and Halliburton crews did a bad cement job. The cement that Halliburton pumped into the well did not seal off the hydrocarbon-bearing formation.
b) Some of Halliburton’s internal tests confirmed a poorly designed and unstable cement slurry and raised further concerns.
c) BP’s temporary abandonment procedures required rig personnel to underbalance the well before installing additional barriers to reinforce the cement job.
d) BP well site leaders and Transocean crew conducted a negative pressure test on April 20. The test indicated that hydrocarbons were leaking into the well, however BP’s well site leader misinterpreted the test, partly as a result of accepting some false theory suggested by some Transocean rig crew. They lost the opportunity to detect the cement failure.
e) By the time the crew became aware of what was happening, hydrocarbons had already moved through the riser pipe, past the blowout preventer and were flowing uncontrollably to the rig floor.
f) The Transocean crew attempted to activate the rig’s BOP, but it was too late to prevent an explosion.
g) The BOP can only close and act as a secondary barrier if activated by crew or automatically by a tragic incident, such as an explosion or a fire, which can trigger the emergency response systems.
a) The technical failures can be traced to a series of BP and Transocean management failures.
b) BP did not recognize or address adequately risks initiated by the frequent changes to well abandonment procedures. The repeated changes to the well plan created a sort of confusions and nuisances among Transocean rig crew and BP employees.
c) BP focused on saving cost by reducing rig time and fostering efficiency to the detriment of safety. BP lost track of the associated risks that come as a result of trying to save cost. This reveals a flop in BP’s management process.
d) Halliburton seemed negligent in its supervision of work done by its main cementing crew and did not take proactive steps to have profoundly reviewed data that should have necessitated it to redesign the cement slurry.
e) Transocean did not communicate critical lessons learnt from a related and recent “near-miss drilling incident” to its employees.
f) The Transocean personnel were not adequately trained on responding to emergency situations.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) and other regulatory frameworks that existed prior to the Macondo incident did not adequately tackle risks associated with deepwater drilling like Macondo. The regulatory personnel were incapable of effectively assess the overall safety or risk of the project due to inexperience and insufficient training.
4.0Recommendations for Action
The following recommendations, if implemented, would prevent an incident of this nature from occurring in the future:
a) Improved industry guidance for barriers and process safety systems
b) Just complying with appropriate standards and regulations is not enough, facility management has to develop a framework for understanding risk. It is key to define what levels of risks are acceptable.
c) Well-defined safety roles for the operator and contractors.
d) While trying to take measures to save cost, management processes must ensure that those steps do not compromise the safety of operations.
e) Rig personnel and company employees should develop a culture of leadership responsibility. They must take individual ownership of safety concerns. They should ask questions, strive to get answers until they get it right.
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