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Internal BP documents, including an e-mail message calling the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon a “nightmare,” show a pattern of risky choices made to save time and money in the weeks before thedisastrous April 20 blowout, according to a letter sent to the oilcompany by the leaders of a House committee on Monday.
The leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce cited five areas in which the company had made decisions that “increased the danger of a catastrophic well,” including the choice for the design of the well, preparations for and tests of the cement job and assurances that the well was properly sealed on the top.
Taken together, the documents offer the strongest case yet that BP bears much of the responsibility for the catastrophic explosion that killed 11 workers and the still-unchecked leaking of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Some of the decisions appeared to violate industry guidelines and were made despite warnings from BP’s own employees and outside contractors, said the committee chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, and Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan. They sent their letter to BP’s chief executive,Tony Hayward, in advance of his testimony this week before the committee.
An investigation suggested that delays in completing the well “created pressure to take shortcuts,” the letter said, and found that corners were cut in designing the well, in preparing for and testing the cementing job, and in assuring that the well was properly sealed at the top.
A BP spokeswoman, Anne Kolton, said that Mr. Hayward would testify before the committee on Thursday. According to the committee schedule, the hearing will be before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, headed by Mr. Stupak.
“I’m sure these issues will be covered at the hearing,” she said.
The committee leaders said that shortly before the blowout, BP engineers chose a faster, less expensive design for the final string of casing, the steel pipe that lines the well. The design chosen, which used a so-called tapered string, cost about $7 million to $10 million less than another method. But the tapered string afforded less protection if the cementing job were poor and gas were to rise up the well, the congressmen wrote. The choice of the casing designwas previously disclosed in The New York Times.
In an exchange of e-mail messages in the week before the blowout, BP drilling engineers discussed the casing plans, with one, Brian P. Morel, asking another for a quick review of one schematic diagram. “Sorry for the late notice,” Mr. Morel wrote, “this has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place.”
Time and money were both concerns, the two representatives wrote, because the well was behind schedule. A problem in March had forced the company to apply for a “bypass,” in which a well is drilled around a problem area. By the day of the blowout, the Deepwater Horizon, leased by BP from Transocean for about half a million dollars a day plus contractors’ fees, was 43 days late for its next drilling location, the committee leaders wrote.
The choice of a tapered string meant that the well had only two barriers to upward gas flow that could cause a blowout: cement near the bottom of the well and a seal assembly near the top. The congressmen described three flawed decisions relating to the cement, and said the company also decided not to use a device called a “lockdown sleeve” to ensure that the top seal would hold.
Among the decisions relating to the cement, the congressmen said, BP opted to use far fewer “centralizers,” devices to keep the final string of casing centered in the well hole and help assure that cement flows evenly around the outside of the casing. BP used six instead of the 21 recommended by the cement contractor, Halliburton, which warned of a potential for a “severe gas flow problem.” A BP official complained in an April 16 e-mail message that it would take 10 hours to install the recommended number. “I do not like this,” he wrote.
In addition, the congressmen wrote, BP did not fully circulate heavy drilling mud through the well — which would have taken about 12 hours — before proceeding with the cement job. The congressmen noted that the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, recommends full circulation before cement work to reduce the possibility that the mud will contaminate the cement, which could contribute to its failure.
BP also did not order a cement bond log, a testing procedure that would have more fully evaluated the quality of the cement barrier. BP’s own engineers had run computer models suggesting that a good cement job was unlikely, and the company had a crew from Schlumberger on hand to conduct the test, which would have taken up to 12 hours.
But BP officials decided not to proceed with the test and the Schlumberger workers left the Deepwater Horizon the morning of the disaster.