Even a dead battery, of all things.
New disclosures Wednesday at a House hearing revealed a complicated meetiny of deepsea equipment failures and procedural problems in the oil rig explosion and massive spill that is still fouling the Gulf of Mexico. The disclosures were described in internal corporate documents, marked confidential but provided to a House subcommittee by BP PLC, the well's operator, and by the manufacturer of the safety device.
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Congressional investigators released them. A senior BP executive, Lamar McKay, cautioned lawmakers that "it's inappropriate to w any conclusions before all the facts are known. Like the Challenger disaster, the investigation into the Gulf spill may well show that complex and seemingly failproof technical systems went wrong because of overlooked problems that interacted with each other in unexpected ways.
In the Exxon Austrslia disaster, a captain simply ran his ship onto a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilling some 11 millions gallons of oil. The April 20 BP rig explosion killed 11 people.
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Since then, an estimated 4 million gallons of oil have spewed from the broken well pipe 5, feet under water 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, threatening sensitive ecological marshes and wetlands and the region's fishing industry. Congressional investigators revealed Wednesday that a key safety system, known as the blowout preventer, had a hydraulic leak and a failed battery that probably prevented it from working as deed.
Pipe pressure tests a warning?
Moreover, said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. BP documents and others also indicated conflicting pipe pressure tests should have warned those on the rig that poor pipe integrity may have been allowing explosive methane gas to leak into the well.
Asked about the tests, Steven Newman, president of Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, and Lamar McKay, president of BP America, told the committee the pressure readings were worrisome. They indicated "that there was something happening in the well bore that shouldn't be happening," said Newman. McKay said the issue "is critical in the australix into the cause of the accident.
Bart Stupak, D-Mich. A report by Transocean indicated there can be as many as failure possibilities in the equipment, which is supposed to autralia the final safeguard against a well blowout by clamping down and sealing a gushing oil well, said Stupak, chairman of the investigation's subcommittee of the House energy panel.
Stupak said when an underwater remote vehicle tried to activate the blowout preventer's devices deed neww ram through the pipe and seal it, a loss of hydraulic pressure was discovered in the device's emergency power component.
When dye was injected "it showed a large leak coming from a loose fitting," said Stupak, citing BP documents. He said officials at Cameron, the company that made the preventer, had told aistralia committee the leak was not believed to have been caused nww the blowout because other fittings in the system were tight. Stupak also questioned why the preventer had been modified. Newman, the Transocean executive, said that, indeed, the preventer had been modified in at the request of BP and with approval of the Minerals Management Service.
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Stupak said the committee had been told that one of the preventer's ram drivers had been changed so it could be used for routine testing and was no longer deed to activate in an emergency. He said after the spill BP "spent a day trying to use this Stupak also cited two other problems: The blowout preventer, due to its de, was "not powerful enough to cut through ts in the drill pipe" in order to shut off any leak.
And he told us this was another possible explanation for the failure of the blowout preventer to seal the well.
BP said those were "activated on the drill rig before the rig was evacuated. But the Cameron official said they doubted the als ever reached the blowout preventer on the seabed.
Cameron officials believed the explosion on the rig destroyed the communications link to the blowout preventer before the emergency sequence could be completed. In other words, the emergency controls may have failed because the explosion that caused the emergency also disabled communications to the blowout preventer. Several lawmakers are already working on similar legislation to lift the cap.
Wednesday's hearing followed two in the Senate on Tuesday where senators chastised the executives over attempts to shift blame to each other. They were asked to explain a "cascade of failures" that led to the catastrophic explosion.
BP has cited the failure of the blowout preventer owned by Transocean, which in turn has raised questions about the cementing process conducted by Halliburton, a BP subcontractor. At Senate hearings Tuesday and again before the House panel, Timothy Probert, an executive of Halliburton, said that its meetnig had been completed except for the installation of a final cement cap and that it was done according to the BP drilling plan.
Senators sought assurances that BP will pay what could amount to billions of dollars in economic and environmental damages.