Lawmakers zero in on oil rig blast causes

May 12, 2010 at 4:40 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, May 12 (UPI) -- Lawmakers Wednesday zeroed in on the causes of the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, saying the companies involved weren't careful enough.

An angry U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., at the second day of a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the more he learns about the accident, "the more concerned I become." Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said it appears inadequate maintenance of the oil rig played a role.

"This catastrophe appears to have been caused by a calamitous series of equipment and operational failures," Waxman said. "If the largest oil and oil service companies in the world had been more careful, 11 lives might have been saved and our coastlines protected."

Waxman said a BP official admitted there was evidence the well wouldn't have passed crucial negative-pressure tests before an explosion and fire ripped through the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig April 20, The New York Times reported. The structure eventually collapsed creating an oil spill that is growing at 210,000 gallons of oil a day, threatening the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Stupak said panel investigators were told a hydraulic leak in a blowout preventer was found before the explosion but it was unclear whether it was the cause of the blast. And there was a dead battery in its control pod, The Washington Post reported.

Stupak cited a memo from Transocean, the company that owned the rig, as saying there were 260 "failure modes" that could force the removal of the blowout preventer.

"How can a device that has 260 failure modes be considered fail-safe?" Stupak asked.

Waxman said the committee had collected 100,000 pages of documents on the cementing job done by Halliburton and tests done about five or six hours before the blowout indicated there were flaws, meaning, "there was a breach somewhere in well integrity that allowed methane gas and possibly other hydrocarbons to enter the well."

A University of California, Berkeley scientist told the Los Angeles Times the cement may have been fouled by hydrates that likely gasified and escaped the cement, causing the explosion.

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