Sunday, October 31, 2010

Willful Negligence in BP’s Shallow Hazards Assessment– Part IIIb of Root Causes

Site-specific shallow hazards assessment is mandatory prior to any well drilling so that disasters like BP’s mega oil spill can be averted. Even without examining the 2009 survey report by C&C Technologies (C&C), it is abundantly clear there had been serious fundamental flaws in the hazards assessment. C&C should have alerted BP of the following hazardous geological conditions:
  1. The high risk of encountering shallow gas hazards within the first 5000 ft bml.
  2. Shallow faults evident within this depth interval (from seabed level down to 5000 ft bml).
  3. The well is located in the mid slope of a large escarpment with a gradient exceeding 3º.
  4. The well is located at the convex section of the escarpment which is the worst possible area to drill into with regard to shallow gas hazards and geotechnical problems of cementing and sealing the well.
  5. The whole L-shaped rectangular escarpment is a raised landform measuring approximately 12 km by 5.5 km, faulted at the edge foot-hill. The circular gentle cone formed at the southern half of the raised landform is probably an ancient lava / asphalt / mud volcano or a combination of the 3 forms.
  6. Irrespective of the form of volcano, the possibility of high fractures, high permeability vents extruding fluids is very high - posing unacceptably high drilling risks. 
  7. Under such geohazardous conditions, the geohazards assessment should have recommended shifting the well location away from the raised landform altogether. The recommended shift would be about 2 km south, away from the foothills of the structure.
  8. BP should be able to reach the targeted reservoir location, although the deviated well would be more expensive than a vertical well. Was this a major cost consideration?   

Any reasonably well-trained geohazards specialist would have arrived at the above conclusions and recommendations by examining the publicly available bathymetry and satellite images. Even though BP had not publicly released the high resolution seismic data, there is a high degree of confidence (>90%) the unreleased data would corroborate the above within acceptable tolerance limits.  

BP should be held criminally liable for willful negligence for proceeding ahead blindly without heeding the sound geohazards assessment. Alternatively, if C&C had not foreseen and forewarn such high drilling risks in their reports, then C&C should be jointly charged with BP. The data fraud evident in the bathymetric data and irresponsible “watered down” assessment given in figure 129-1, could not have escaped the attention of an experienced exploration oil company like BP. BP must have given their tacit approval since all preliminary draft charts and reports had to be vetted and approved by BP’s technical experts. In all probability, the “boilerplate” assessment must have been “cut and pasted” like BP’s useless 852-pages of emergency response in the event of an offshore oil spill.

Annals of outrage
BP's emergency "plan" for the Gulf discusses impact on "seals, sea otters and walruses" -18 May 2010

BP's 582-page emergency-response never anticipated an oil spill as large as the one now gushing on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico; a closer reading shows the document was not much than a boilerplate, cut-and-paste job used by BP from region to region; in a section titled "Sensitive Biological & Human-Use Resources," the emergency plan lists "seals, sea otters and walruses" as animals that could be impacted by a Gulf of Mexico spill -- even though no such animals live in the Gulf; the plan was approved in July by the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS), a toothless agency accused by lawmakers of being in the pocket of the oil industry

~~~~~~~~~~end of quote~~~~~~~

The many mistakes contained in the bathymetric information and hazards assessment could not have been “accidental or due to mere incompetence”. They were the obvious results of data massaging and fraud. Both BP and C&C should be criminally liable for their active involvement in the cut corners, data fraud and cover-ups. The disastrous blow out on 20 Apr 2010 would not have happened had the devious fuse to the disaster been nipped in the bud.  A summary of the Forensic Analysis Of BP’s Bathymetric Chart are listed here.

1.       The bathymetric data submitted to MMS (Sheet 1 of 6 and Plate 6) had been inaccurate and misrepresented.
2.       The shallow hazards assessment should not have been carried out using BP’s exploration personnel and BP’s 3D exploration seismic data. Exploration geologists are not specifically trained to assess shallow hazards and 3D exploration seismic data have time, angular and spatial resolution limitations at shallow zones as confirmed by the fundamental errors contained in the BP’s shallow hazards assessment (conclusion at page 10).
3.       The water depth cannot be accurate to 1 ft as depicted by 4992 ft. The estimated accuracy from a surface echo sounder operating at 33 kHz 5000ft is +/- 10ft.
4.       Similarly the spatial accuracy is estimated to be 30ft. Thus the 5ft contour interval is misleading.
5.       There are many seafloor features. So the phrase “the only seafloor feature” is incorrect and misleading.
6.       “The low-relief escarpment approx 1000ft / 950ft south of the “A” / “B” location” is both incorrect and misleading. Both A and B locations are in the mid-slope of the escarpment and not 950ft or 1000ft.  The escarpment is not low-relief but at least 250ft.
7.       The conclusion “The proposed well bore will not intersect any faults between the seafloor and the depth limit of this investigation at Horizon 6 or 5292 ft bml” is irresponsible, inaccurate and fundamentally flawed.
8.       The “risk of encountering shallow gas is ranked as … Moderate… Low ….Negligible” is without basis and illogical even on the basis of the bathymetric data and general geology of the site.

Geohazards assessments like pre-surgical medical diagnoses are critical to the success of the surgical operation. BP’s erroneous hazards assessment is not the first nor will it be the last. Just as proper medical diagnoses require due diligence, hard work, specialised training, skills and experience, geohazards assessments cannot be carried out irresponsibly and indifferently by exploration geologists who are more concern with hitting the target reservoir. All over the world, junior geophysicists without proper training, skills and experience are being tasked to churn out inadequate assessment reports just like BP’s. To be fair, there are concerned industry workers. They are however, the minority and in no position to make demands for change. The demands for change have to come from outside. Not industry leaders like Fugro and RPS who are more concerned with their bottom-line. Oil companies care even less.

So we continue to play Russian Roulette. Even when the documented evidences clearly implicate BP of wrong-doings the regulators are too impotent and beholden to the oil companies to do anything else but to play along the deception game. Mother Nature and the victims suffer in silence because it is convenient for the world to turn a blind eye, just as the QC consultants did on BP’s survey vessel in January 2009. The pesky little problems that coalesced and blew into one gigantic disaster on 20 April 2010, could have been stopped at their tracks with diligent geohazards contractors and dedicated QC consultants. But the regulators, oil companies, QC consultants and contractors prefer their cozy relationship with each other than to really try to nip the problems in the bud. They are all in cahoots with their pretentious stringent offshore regulations, HSE standards and safety first policies. Disasters are expediently perceived to be accidental so that the crooks responsible for lighting the fuses in the first place, can be free to cook up another windfall disaster. 

Safety Fraud is one perfect crime of mass destruction. No one complaints or is aggrieved when the easy profits roll in. When disaster eventually strikes, the privileged few collect the windfall. Yes, BP’s shareholders suffered together with millions affected by the Gulf Oil Spill. Did the privileged few responsible for the disaster really suffer? The golden parachute for Tony Hayward says it all.

Every disaster is an opportunity to put things right. If we don’t the next one could be even more devastating. 

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