Failure to run logging software led to BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster, court rules

BP’s decision not to run logging software was a “substantial” factor in the oil rig explosion that led to the worst marine disaster in US history, courts have ruled.

The ruling found BP guilty of gross negligence which caused the explosion at its Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 men and caused millions of gallons of oil to leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

The verdict means the oil giant could face civil fines of up to $18 billion (£11 billion) under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling was seeking to find exactly who was responsible for the oil rig blowout that caused an explosion followed by an oil leak. It found that weaknesses in the cement were at the root cause of the disaster.

The court heard that on the morning of the explosion, BP made several conscious decisions not to run a software programme called a Cement Bond Log (CBL) to spot weaknesses in the structure of the cement it was pumping into the well.

BP employees decided not to run the software on numerous occasions, the court heard.

The investigation found that the absence of the CBL was "a substantial cause of the blowout, explosion and oil spill”, documents released alongside the ruling stated.

Court judge Carl Barbier’s report cited the many occasions when BP had the opportunity to run a CBL, including instances where a contracted team of workers - specialists in CBL - were sent home instead of performing the checks on the morning of the explosion.

Further, the court found, BP employees discussed and actively decided not to perform a CBL during a teleconference that same morning.

A supporting document stated: “The court finds that a prudent well operator in BP’s position, knowing what BP knew at the time, would have run a CBL…The fact that BP did not opt for the CBL when the necessary people and equipment were already on location leads the courts to believe BP’s decision was primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.

“If BP had performed the CBL, it would have shown that the top of the cement was not where it should have been, which would have given clear indication that the cement was not where it should have been and extremely unlikely to provide a barrier to flow.”

BP said: "BP strongly disagrees with the decision issued today by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and will immediately appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

“BP believes that the finding that it was grossly negligent with respect to the accident and that its activities at the Macondo well amounted to willful misconduct is not supported by the evidence at trial. The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case.  BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court."

This is not the first instance where IT systems, or decisions not to use them, have been blamed for the oil spill. A year after the disaster, a government report exposed that the emergency oil control device on the disastrous oil rig, operated by BP, experienced serious backup system failures.

Contractors for BP, including cementing company Halliburton have shared the spotlight for their part in the events that led to the explosion. The former technology director at Halliburton is currently serving a year of probation after avoiding jail time for destroying data that was relevant to the spill.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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