House Oil Spill Investigation Finds Problems with Equipment on Deepwater Horizon

The morning of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, the well did not pass a key pressure test. According to a Wall Street Journal report, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said today that House investigators had learned about the failed pressure test from BP PLC officials. Such pressure tests are aimed at ensuring the integrity of cement poured into a well to keep out natural gas.

Another member of the Committee, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), said a preliminary investigation had uncovered “four significant problems” with the blowout preventer, which he said had a leak in a key hydraulic system.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee was the third congressional committee to take up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in two days. Yesterday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held back-to-back proceedings. At least eight congressional panels have set hearings on the incident.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the result of a catastrophic explosion that occurred aboard the offshore rig on April 20. Eleven crew members were killed in the blast. So far, BP has had no luck staunching the leaking well, which is gushing at least 200,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico every day. According to The Wall Street Journal, it is thought that a sudden surge of gas into the wellbore caused the well to blow.

At today’s hearing, Waxman said his Committee had collected 100,000 pages of documents from the companies and agencies involved in the rig accident. According to the Journal, Waxman said that James Dupree, BP’s senior vice president for the Gulf of Mexico, told House investigators that the pressure test conducted the morning of the blast indicated uneven buildups of pressure in different lengths of the pipe, pointing to a potential influx of gas into the wellbore.

A second “negative pressure” test was run. It showed pressure was mounting in the well, and the results were also unsatisfactory, the Journal said According to a Bloomberg report, Waxman said Dupree told staff that he believed the well exploded moments after the second pressure test. That contradicts an account from BP’s lawyers that further well tests were conducted about 8 p.m. – two hours before the explosion.

As to the blowout preventer, Stupak said a “significant” leak was found in the hydraulic system that provides emergency power to the devices that are supposed to cut the drill pipe and seal the well in an emergency. According to Bloomberg, the Committee’s investigation also found that the blowout preventer had been modified in “unexpected ways,” prior to the blast, and may not have been strong enough to cut the drill pipe and shut the well.

The oil well in question is owned by BP, which leased Deepwater Horizon from TransOcean Ltd. TransOcean subsidiary, Cameron International Corp., also provided the blowout prevention equipment for the rig that appears to have failed. Subcontractors from Halliburton had finished cementing the well head to the sea floor prior to the explosion. Executives from all four companies appeared before the Committee today.

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