As a former staff drilling engineer in the offshore west division for Shell Oil Company and subsequently as the staff advisor to Shell’s Deep Drilling Research group, my experience says the BP disaster was predictable and preventable and resulted from lack of training, improper procedures, and faulty equipment. The explosion, fire, and subsequent deaths of 11 employees was the result of negligence and malfeasance.
As recently as last week, the president of BP suggested that the chance for failure was one in a million. In BP’s case, it was one in one. The fact that he does not recognize the mistakes they made is of great concern. The “well kick” probably occurred five to six hours before explosive expansion of the gas and liquids occurred. Annular flow rate indicators should have shown evidence of this and periodic visual observation should have confirmed it. Once expansion occurred in the riser, events were inevitable.
Subsequent “well kill” operations are preceding far too slowly. The lack of information regarding time to drill the original wells and or any evidence from well logging while drilling, makes evaluation of BP’s drilling performance difficult. One relief well, fast as possible for a “proximity kill” followed by a second well to intercept the blow out well may have been a better plan.
The president’s emphasis on stopping well drilling operations in the gulf makes matters worse and is unnecessary. Only BP should be subjected to a moratorium. Operators only need to know perpetrators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law with special attention paid to improper practices or inadequate safety procedures.
Rather than emphasize high cost alternatives, such as solar, wind, and biofuels, financial subsidies should be made available to accelerate development of our natural gas resources. With more than 200 years of natural gas reserves now selling at historically low prices relative to oil, gas is a natural.
In the meantime we should assemble a panel of drilling experts to provide effective oversight of BP’s operations. Shell, Exxon, Chevron, Noble, Schlumberger, Halliburton and NOV, each have Engineers and operating personnel far more experienced than any the government or BP may provide.
I am very concerned that the news media and constant government reports are confusing cause and effect and unnecessarily delaying the resumption of safe deep water drilling practices.