Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon, said Monday it had addressed 90 per cent of recommendations made in a BPaudit about systems and equipment in need of upgrade or enhancement on the rig a month before it exploded and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Overall rig maintenance aboard the Deepwater Horizon met or exceeded regulatory and industry standards and, according to documents and testimony today by BP’s own executives, the rig was found to be fit, strong and prepared for operations in the Gulf,” the company told the FT.
It was responding to the focus of an investigative hearing in Houston that an internal audit by BP found 390 overdue maintenance problems on the Deepwater Horizon rig in September 2009 and that Transocean’s bonus structure, for some staff, was tied, among other things, to “rig uptime”—as opposed to being shut down for maintenance.
Transocean was still working through the list of maintenance issues when BP authorized the rig’s use on the well that caused the Gulf of Mexico spill, a BP employee testified on Monday.
The rig, owned by Transocean, exploded on April 20 and sank several days later, resulting in an estimated 4.9m-barrel oil spill that was capped in July. BP is in the final stages of shutting the well permanentlyand will then focus on the clean-up and a series of investigations.
Neil Cramond, of BP’s Gulf of Mexico marine authority, told an investigation by the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, that he insisted the most risky of those safety issues identified in his department, involving watertight integrity, be fixed before he would support the Deepwater Horizon returning to work.
Doors that were to have been watertight were opening by themselves, there were deficiencies in the ballast that meant an inability to pump out water, and so on, he said.
Outside Mr Cramond’s department, other items identified in the audit, seen by the Financial Times, included problems with the alarms and an emergency shutdown panel.
The number of overdue jobs, the audit said, was “excessive”. They included parts of the blow-out preventer, which failed on April 20, when the well exploded, killing 11 and injuring 17. Other concerns included the maintenance management system.
It is unclear which issues remained outstanding when drilling began on the Macondo well.
Paul Johnson, Transocean rig manager, told the hearing “rig uptime”—when it was at work and not “down” for maintenance—was considered, among other things, in determining annual bonus for some staff. Nonetheless, he said, Transocean had concerns about some problematic equipment raised by BP’s audit and insisted upon repairing it before returning to work.
Mr Johnson said there were several times he had requested information from BP that was never provided and, since the accident, worried BP had intentionally withheld some data from Transocean.
Transocean said many of the maintenance issues raised by BP were under way or comprised duplicate entries because the company had changed to a new maintenance database. When the software program changed, everything showed as “immediately due” because there was no history, Transocean said.
BP’s audit, however, said: “With excessive overdue maintenance and the recent introduction of more maintenance routines, it would appear that the maintenance department is struggling to stay in touch with the planned maintenance schedule.”
Yet Mr Cramond confirmed the company had praised Transocean for responding so swiftly and had approved the Deepwater Horizon to go back to work after BP scrutinized the repairs made by Transocean and its plans to fix the rest.
BP said in response to the audit: “We take the results of these audits seriously—and we expect our contractors to do likewise. Our personnel routinely met with Transocean personnel to review the audits and to discuss the progress being made on items identified in the audit.
“The goal is to have the contractor address all safety-critical items in a prompt manner.”