Saturday, April 23, 2011

Footnote to the preceding, This is More Important Div.

So what could be more important related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster than BP's overall scumminess? How about this:

One of the big questions investigators wanted answered is why the blowout preventer (or BOP) failed. The blowout preventer is the device, big as a double-decker bus, that sits on top of the wellhead that is supposed to seal off the well in the event of a blowout. It contains a series of rams that are supposed to be triggered in such an event that slam together with sufficient force to stop the flow of oil. Sounds good. Even looks good on paper. In fact, as CBS News put it a month after the disaster,
[t]o hear some industry officials talk, these devices are virtually foolproof.
Apparently, "industry officials" are - gasp - bullshitting us again.

First, know that BP's claim that the BOP was "tested to industry standards" is a lie:
[W]histleblower Mike Mason disclosed BP had been aware that BOP testing results were being falsified for years in Alaska. Mason disclosed that the standard five minute test to determine if the device could withstand high levels of pressure was only applied when state and federal regulators were present (50% of the time). The other half of the time, BP would reduce the testing time to 30 seconds and falsify the records to indicate that it underwent the full testing.
But here's the real point:
Why the blowout preventer didn’t work has been the subject of intense speculation and several congressional and private investigations. The primary cause for that failure, according to the Norwegian consulting firm Det Norske Veritas, was the blowout preventer's "blind-shear ram" – a massive set of steel jaws intended to completely cut through the drill pipe, crimping it in the process and sealing the well.

The reason the shear ram's jaws failed was because they encountered a situation for which they were not designed – a "buckled" section of drill pipe, bowed sideways by the enormous pressure of oil thrusting upward from miles beneath the earth, the investigators said in their final report to the Interior Department and the US Coast Guard,
released late last month.

In case that's not clear, let me make it plain: Blowout preventers do not work!

They are unreliable under exactly the sort of conditions under which they would be necessary. In Fact, according to former oil industry executive Bob Kavnar, in 2009 Det Norske Veritas said underwater BOPs failed 45% of the time. Put another way, blowout preventers are virtually guaranteed to stop a blowout - so long as there is no blowout to stop. If there is, the device can be knocked off kilter and instead of being "virtually foolproof," it becomes virtually useless.

Even beyond that, the device failed to work in more ways, not just in ram failure:
The blowout preventer below the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig had trouble triggering emergency disconnect functions when the rig lost control of the well....

Control pods with electronic and hydraulic cables use batteries to disconnect from a rig in emergency situations whenever power and communications to a rig are lost. That happened last April 20 on Deepwater Horizon, but the rig never disconnected from the well.
This despite the fact that the company that made the BOP, Cameron International, bragged that their model had more safety redundancies than other models.

And to, to use an old phrase, cap the climax, here's the kicker: The feds knew the things didn't work. They knew all along.
- Accident reports from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Interior Department, show that the devices have failed or otherwise played a role in at least 14 accidents, mostly since 2005.

- Government and industry reports have raised questions about the reliability of blowout preventers for more than a decade. A 2003 report by Transocean, the owner of the destroyed rig, said: "Floating drilling rig downtime due to poor BOP reliability is a common and very costly issue confronting all offshore drilling contractors."
It's worth going over those points again: Both government and industry have been questioning the reliability of blowout preventers for over ten years. And in that time, the devices have failed repeatedly. But still, even knowing that, even knowing about the failures and the questions, the feds granted permits for deep water wells, permits granted on the basis of "safety procedures" that the feds knew were inadequate, relying on a technology they knew was prone to failure. And even worse, they are still doing it: They continued to issue drilling permits based on the use of blowout protectors and safety procedures that pre-date the disaster.

They knew and they know - but apparently, they just didn't and still don't care: Kavnar says that the "tightened safety rules" so proudly promoted by the White House do not address the fact that the technology itself is fundamentally flawed. They don't care any more than they cared in 1998 when they decided that the devices needed to be tested only half as often as previously, a relaxed requirement that continued right through those accidents "mostly since 2005" and even through the industry's admission that "poor BOP reliability is a common and very costly issue."

So here's the question: Who or what do you think the government was protecting? The environment? The Gulf? The people and culture of the Gulf Coast? Or the oil industry?

As another old saying has it, some questions need only be asked.

Footnote: Just in case you want to think that deep-water drilling disasters are the only issue at hand here's news that
[a] government list obtained by The Associated Press shows that in addition to 27,000 oil and gas wells that were sealed with cement and abandoned without any regular monitoring, another 3,200 old wells have quietly been left unused without any cement plugging to help prevent leaks.

Without those plugs, there is little to prevent powerful leaks from pushing to the surface, so these wells could be an even greater environmental threat than wells that have been sealed and classified as either temporarily or permanently abandoned. ...

[This] means up to three-fifths of the 50,000 wells ever drilled in the Gulf have been left behind with no routine monitoring for leaks.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement resisted releasing the list for months on the grounds that it wanted first to "verify" it with the industry, even though the FOIA says requested records should be released as is except for redactions allowed or required by law, a description which surely does not cover "we want to check with Exxon-Mobil and the rest first." The agency finally released what it later claimed was an "unverified" list; the "verified" list is still unavailable.

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