Experts: BP ignored warning signs on doomed well

RISKS: Science panel finds company missed, ignored warning signs of a blowout.

November 17, 2010 

WASHINGTON -- A new report from an independent scientific panel says BP and its contractors missed and ignored key warning signs and failed to fully recognize important risks in the days and hours leading up to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout.

Some of the panel's conclusions appear more critical of BP, the owner of the well, than preliminary findings issued last week by the presidential oil spill commission.

That commission said while BP made decisions that saved time it found no evidence that employees consciously chose saving money over safety. The National Academy of Engineering, which issued the latest report, said BP and others involved in the disaster failed to manage risks and didn't even have a system in place to weigh safety against costs.

Several entities, including the Coast Guard, the Justice Department, Congress and BP itself, also are looking into the causes of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The various inquiries have so far come up with similar core findings: That BP and its partners misread critical pressure tests, that the cement job meant to seal the well didn't work, and that the blowout preventer failed to stop the gusher as designed.

Yet the investigations vary sharply in emphasis and tone. BP's internal investigation spread the blame around, saying its partners on the doomed rig shared responsibility. The presidential panel said a cascade of failures, not any single decision, led to the disaster.

The engineering academy, which issued its report late Tuesday, focused on flawed and risky decision-making. It said that the companies involved downplayed the risks of deepwater drilling even as they insisted they never compromised safety.

Among the hazards highlighted in the panel's report were several tests that indicated the cement at the bottom of the hole would not be an effective barrier to an influx of oil and gas. More than a month before the disaster, BP also lost drilling materials deep in the hole -- a situation that hinted at the challenges of the well, but was not used to address risks.

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