Thursday, May 27, 2010

did grumbling management doom Deepwater Horizon?

Some grim details have emerged on the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster, which suggest that workers were aware of the risks and dangers of Horizon specifically, had gone forward with those complaints, and were brushed off by management.  AP reporters, citing testimony from witnesses and participants on and around Horizon, describe workers waiting too long for approval from management to initiate shut-down procedures, as well as workers' safety and equipment concerns not being taken seriously.  The article describes
...Doug Brown, chief rig mechanic aboard the platform, testified that the trouble began at a meeting hours before the blowout, with a "skirmish" between a BP official and rig workers who did not want to replace heavy drilling fluid in the well with saltwater.

The switch presumably would have allowed the company to remove the fluid and use it for another project, but the seawater would have provided less weight to counteract the surging pressure from the ocean depths.
Brown said the BP official, whom he identified only as the "company man," overruled the drillers, declaring, "This is how it's going to be." Brown said the top Transocean official on the rig grumbled, "Well, I guess that's what we have those pinchers for," which he took to be a reference to devices on the blowout preventer, the five-story piece of equipment that can slam a well shut in an emergency.
And worse:
In a handwritten statement to the Coast Guard obtained by the AP, Transocean rig worker Truitt Crawford said: "I overheard upper management talking saying that BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blew out." 


Pressure problems were discovered at least 20 minutes prior to the fire. No one tried to shut off the well until after the fire started, which makes about as much sense as it sounds. 

Some testifying workers displayed a sense of long-term causation that eludes executives and upper management. 
"They gambled with our lives," laborer Stephen Stone told the House Judiciary Committee. He said the accident was "set in motion years ago by these companies needlessly rushing to make money faster, while cutting corners to save money."
From the classic labor song "We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years"--

There is never a mine blown skyward now

But we're buried alive for you
There's never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew
Go reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth
Good God we have paid it in...

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