Investigation Points to Many Root Causes

The Deepwater Horizon explosion that occurred on April 20 can be described in many different ways. The one I find most valuable though is an opportunity for learning.

In late May, BP announced that its internal investigation team would share some initial perspectives of its review of the causes of the Deepwater Horizon fire and oil spill. The company noted that much investigative work remains, including further interviews and “full forensic examinations” of the blow out preventer (BOP), the wellhead, and the rig itself. (As I write this, all are still currently on the sea bed.)

According to reports from the BP team, the investigation team’s work thus far shows that this accident was brought about by the failure of a number of processes, systems and equipment. Though multiple control mechanisms - procedures and equipment - were in place, they failed prevent the accident or reduce the impact of the spill. The company says its investigation will focus on seven mechanisms:
  • The cement that seals the reservoir from the well.
  • The casing system that seals the well bore.
  • The pressure tests to confirm the well is sealed.
  • The execution of procedures to detect and control hydrocarbons in the well, including the use of the BOP.
  • The BOP emergency disconnect system, which can be activated by pushing a button at multiple locations on the rig.
  • The automatic closure of the BOP after its connection is lost with the rig.
  • Features in the BOP to allow remotely operated vehicles (ROV) to close the BOP and thereby seal the well at the seabed after a blow out.
A forensic examination of these and other factors will help BP and the other companies involved indentify what went wrong - and right. No one - no company - wants to have an accident, whether small scale or large. The effects of the incident may be far reaching, but it is hoped that at least one of its longest lasting effects is smarter control mechanisms that can benefit any manufacturer in the process industries.

Linda Becker, Associate Publisher and Editor,