NEW ORLEANS BP made a series of money-saving shortcuts and blunders that sharply increased the danger of an oil spill in a well that an engineer described as a "nightmare" just six days before the blowout, according to documents released Monday.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee released dozens of internal documents outlining problems on the deep-sea rig in the days and weeks before the April 20 explosion that triggered the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The committee has been investigating the explosion and its aftermath.
"Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense. If this is what happened, BP's carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig," said Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak.
Congressional investigators have identified several mistakes by BP in the weeks leading up to the disaster as it fell way behind on drilling the well.
BP started drilling in October, only to have the rig damaged by Hurricane Ida a month later. The company switched to the Deepwater Horizon rig and resumed drilling on Feb. 6. The rig was 43 days late for its next drilling location by the time it exploded April 20, costing BP at least $500,000 each day it was overdue, congressional documents show.
As BP found itself in a frantic race against time to get the job done, engineers cut corners in the well design, cementing and drilling mud efforts and the installation of safety devices known as "lockdown sleeves" and "centralizers," according to congressional investigators.
In the design of the well, the company apparently chose a riskier option among two possibilities to provide a barrier to the flow of gas in space surrounding steel tubes in the well, documents and internal e-mails show. The decision saved BP $7 million to $10 million; the original cost estimate for the well was about $96 million
In an e-mail, BP engineer Brian Morel told a fellow employee that the company is likely to make last-minute changes in the well.
"We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been a nightmare well which has everyone all over the place," Morel wrote.
The e-mail chain culminated with the following message by another worker: "This has been a crazy well for sure."
BP also apparently rejected advice from subcontractor Halliburton in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton's recommendation to use 21 "centralizers" to make sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore. Instead, BP used six.
In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: "It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like this."
Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: "Who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine."
BP also failed to fully circulate drilling mud, a 12-hour procedure that could have helped detect gas pockets that later shot up the well and exploded on the drilling rig.
Asked about the details disclosed from the investigation, BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company's main focus right now is on the response and stopping the flow of oil. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment while an investigation is ongoing," Proegler said.