Report Commissioned Before BP Oil Spill Highlights Problems Aboard Deepwater Horizon, Other Transocean Rigs

Transocean Ltd., the owner of the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig, had safety problems on at least three other Gulf of Mexico platforms prior to the April 20 explosion that spawned the BP oil spill. According to a report in The New York Times, those concerns prompted Transocean to commission risk management company Lloyd’s Register to investigate the safety culture of its North American operations just a month before the disaster.

According to the Times, Transocean owns 14 rigs now operating in the Gulf and 139 others in locations around the globe.

As part of its investigation, Lloyd’s Register looked into the safety culture on Deepwater Horizon, three other Gulf rigs – the Development Driller II, the Marianas, and the Discoverer Clear Leader – and at Transocean’s Huston, Texas headquarters. The review was commissioned in response to “a series of serious accidents and near-hits within the global organization,” according to the Times.

Among Lloyd’s findings:

• Nearly 40 percent of workers interviewed on the four rigs said that past problems were typically investigated by company officials strictly to attribute blame.

• About 43 percent of workers on the four rigs expressed fears of reprisals for reporting problems, with about 54 percent of Deepwater Horizon workers citing such fears.

• Some workers said the company was systematically deferring maintenance to save money.

The investigators who visited the four rigs in March concluded that many crew members and front-line supervisors were too readily promoted without sufficient on-the-job experience to appreciate hazards, the Times said.

The documents obtained by the Times also point to possible reasons for the Deepwater Horizon’s sinking following the April 20 explosion. According to the Times, the documents indicate problems with the Deepwater Horizon’s ballast system that was responsible for keeping the rig afloat and stable. Had the rig stayed afloat, the oil spill may not have happened.

According to the Times, the documents also show the severity of the maintenance issues that plagued the Deepwater Horizon, and indicate that Transocean personnel knew what their consequences could be. The documents refer to at least 36 pieces of equipment in poor repair on the Deepwater Horizon that “may lead to loss of life, serious injury or environmental damage as a result of inadequate use and/or failure of equipment.” They also refer to an inspection of Deepwater Horizon that was conducted just before the disaster that found various problems with hydraulic relays that controlled the rig’s watertight doors, two of which had to be opened and closed by hand, the Times said.

According to the Times, two of the four Gulf rigs investigated by Lloyd’s are being used in BP’s efforts to contain the BP oil spill. Development Driller II is being used to drill one of the two relief wells near the Deepwater Horizon site, while Discoverer Clear Leader is now being used for oil containment there.

The Marianas was the original rig on the site of Deepwater Horizon before being damaged in a hurricane, the Times said.

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