A technician on BP’s doomed Deepwater Horizon missed indications that the rig was about to suffer a disaster because he was taking a cigarette break.
A panel investigating the explosion that killed 11 men and led to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill heard on Tuesday that Joseph E Keith, a senior unit manager for Halliburton’s Sperry subsidiary, left his post for 10 minutes on the night of the April 20 accident.
While he was away from his monitors, pressure data indicated the well was filling with a mixture of explosive gas and oil, according to evidence entered at the joint Coast Guard-Interior Department panel in Houston. Mr Keith told the panel that had he seen the data he would have alerted colleagues to the danger. However, by the time he returned from smoking half a cigarette the gauges had returned to normal.
Mr Keith said he realised something was wrong when his screens monitoring drilling fluid began to bend and stretch and the air-conditioner in the ceiling melted. On leaving his monitoring station Mr Keith saw the devastation and found a dead colleague on the deck, before escaping with 115 other workers.
BP’s internal investigation found the rig crew failed to notice danger signals for as long as 40 minutes prior to the explosions and fire. However, the report did not single out individuals.
The revelations came as the White House oil spill commission accused one of BP’s suppliers of obstructing the inquiry. The commission said National Oilwell Varco is not co-operating with its requests for information.
US officials need National Oilwell Varco help to recreate what the crew who died in the accident might have seen on their monitors in the moments before the accident on April 20.
“For over a month, we have attempted to elicit National Oilwell Varco’s assistance on this matter,” the panel’s investigators said in a letter to commissioners. “They have been generally unco-operative, either in the form of refusal or delay.” National Oilwell Varco is the US’s largest equipment supplier for the oil industry and provided the rig’s crew with proprietary data displays, which give information about the flow of oil.
The company said in a statement it supports the panel’s investigation but added “manufacturing guesses as to what was displayed on the rig’s computers runs a serious risk of producing a misleading picture. We rejected their requests to synthesise hypothetical computer displays utilising limited mud data provided by the Commission because these would not be accurate or fair.”
It added that it was “surprised” by the Commission’s letter since it believes it has responded constructively to requests for assistance.
The Commission argues that recreated data would be imperfect but would “significantly advance our investigation”.
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