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BP’s Report Sparks Backlash From Contractors, US

BP’s internal inquiry into the causes of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill provoked an immediate backlash from its contractors, as well as US politicians who said the British group was “happy to slice up blame, as long as it gets the smallest piece”.

Simulated oil splatter on a BP gas station sign in Manhattan, New York.
Photo: Johan Lammers
Simulated oil splatter on a BP gas station sign in Manhattan, New York.

The company’s report, presented in Washington DC by Mark Bly, its head of safety and operations, identified “a sequence of failures” that led to the accident on April 20 which killed 11 workers.

BP accepted that its engineers should shoulder some of the blame but shifted much of the responsibility on to its contractors, Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded, and Halliburton, the company responsible for cementing the Macondo well.

The report identified eight critical factors that led to the accident, including weaknesses in the cement, design and testing of the well; misreading of pressure tests even though the well was not completely sealed; and the failure of the blow-out preventer – valves to stop gas and oil escaping – to operate.

Tony Hayward, BP’s outgoing chief executive, said in a statement that “it is evident that a series of complex events, rather than a single mistake or failure” led to the tragedy.

Transocean hit back, dismissing a “self-serving report... that attempted to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo [well] incident: BP’s fatally flawed well design. In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk – in some cases, severely.”

Halliburton pointed to a number of “substantial omissions and inaccuracies”.

It said it “remains confident that all the work it performed with respect to the Macondo well was completed in accordance with BP’s specifications for its well construction plan and instructions, and that it is fully indemnified under its contract for any of the allegations contained in the report”.

The White House said the report would become just one part of its investigation into what went wrong at the Deepwater Horizon well and how to prevent another such disaster.

Ed Markey, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and one of BP’s fiercest critics, said the report was “not BP’s mea culpa”. He added: “Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece.”

- Reporting by Sylvia Pfeifer, Ed Crooks, Sheila McNulty, Anna Fifield and Michael Peel