BP oil spill ‘slows’ but serious IT failures come to surface

An internal investigation at BP has revealed serious IT failures played a part in the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The news comes as US officials announced BP had begun to slow the rate that oil is spewing into the sea. A ‘top kill’ effort, whereby thousands of litres of mud and cement are being blasted down to the well heads to stop the oil, has “stabilised” and slowed the flow of oil, the US Coast Guard said. But BP said it required up to 48 hours more work before it could judge early success.

As the Obama administration piles pressure on BP to solve the situation – now the worst oil spill in US history with nearly a million gallons of oil having flooded into the sea each day – the US government released a summary of BP’s own early investigation into the problems. The document contains some damning facts about IT at the rig, which is operated by BP but owned by Transocean.

The parties publicly insist it is too early to apportion blame, but a high profile blame-game is expected to take place as President Obama piles pressure on the industry to pick up the bill for the billions of dollars of damage that has been estimated. BP has spent over £640 million so far.

BP has said the accident “was brought about by the failure of a number of processes, systems and equipment”. It added: “There were multiple control mechanisms— procedures and equipment—in place that should have prevented this accident or reduced the impact of the spill.” These did not succeed.

In the investigation, BP raised “several concerns” about the blowout preventer, which sits on top of the well head 5,000 feet below the water surface, and controls oil flow, according to the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce. The findings are preliminary.

The “failure” of a key emergency disconnect system was noted in a committee memo summarising the early investigation. That system, if effective, would have kicked in to stop the oil from flowing, but signals may not have reached the blowout preventer because of the explosion.

There were also problems with a further automatic closure system, or deadman switch, that should have closed off the preventer if those connections were lost. This also failed. The testing and maintenance of the blowout preventer technology is also in question.

BP additionally experienced “failure” with interventions from its remote operated vehicles, which struggled to operate the shear rams to cut and seal the pipe. The reason for this, too, has not been established.

Other, non-IT items are being investigated by BP for their possible contribution to the disaster – these include the well case and the reservoir-sealing cement.

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