May 24, 2024

Companies, Crews and Regulators Share Blame in Coast Guard Report on Oil Spill

The Coast Guard’s harshly worded 288-page study also declared that the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the mobile offshore drilling rig’s flag state, had failed in its regulatory duties. And the study faulted the Coast Guard itself for failing to ensure that large, complex offshore drilling units registered in foreign nations but operating in United States waters were properly maintained, staffed and inspected.

“Although the events leading to the sinking of Deepwater Horizon were set into motion by the failure to prevent a well blowout,” the report states, “the investigation revealed numerous systems deficiencies, and acts and omissions by Transocean and its Deepwater Horizon crew, that had an adverse impact on the ability to prevent or limit the magnitude of the disaster.”

The April 20, 2010, explosion and fire aboard the rig killed 11 men and injured 16 others. The resulting oil spill poured nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean was under contract to BP to drill the Macondo well in 5,000 feet of water in the gulf off the coast of Louisiana. Since the fatal accident, BP, Transocean and another major contractor, Halliburton, have engaged in recriminations and lawsuits, with each accusing the others of negligence. Friday’s report will certainly become a factor in the resulting litigation and will most likely be read closely by Justice Department criminal and civil investigators.

Transocean’s failures included the “inhibiting” of automatic safety warning systems, a lack of drills for an emergency evacuation, the installation of electrical equipment in places where it could ignite gases, a lack of barriers to protect crew members from a blast or fire, and a history of safety violations that were not addressed, according to the study. The rig also did not comply with regulations regarding the integrity of internal watertight compartments, and the crew did not have proper training or knowledge of onboard safety systems, the Coast Guard found.

“The investigation revealed that Deepwater Horizon and its owner, Transocean, had serious safety management system failures and a poor safety culture,” the report said.

Transocean disputed some of the central conclusions of the report, including assertions that it had failed safety inspections and did not have adequate fire prevention equipment on board.

“We strongly disagree with, and documentary evidence in the Coast Guard’s possession refutes, key findings in this report,” Lou Colasuonno, a Transocean spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement Friday afternoon. “The Coast Guard inspected the Deepwater Horizon just seven months before the Macondo incident and certified the rig as being fully compliant with all applicable U.S. and international marine safety compliance standards, including those associated with fire and gas detection systems. Further, at the time of the accident the Deepwater Horizon possessed all required valid documents verifying compliance with all international and Coast Guard requirements.”

The government of the Marshall Islands, in a statement, criticized the Coast Guard report as based on “conjecture and speculation.” Bill Gallagher, the islands’ senior deputy commissioner of maritime affairs, said his government was conducting its own investigation and complained that the islands were not allowed to review or comment on the Coast Guard report.

He also said the Coast Guard should have waited until the investigation was complete before delivering its verdict.

The Coast Guard and the Interior Department conducted 25 days of public hearings and have spent much of the past year interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents from the companies involved in the accident. Because the drilling rig is classified as a ship, its operations fall under Coast Guard jurisdiction. Six current or retired Coast Guard officers oversaw its part of the investigation, although only three are named in the report.

The report does not address the role of the other parties in the disaster. A separate study of the causes of the well failure is being prepared by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the federal regulatory agency that oversees offshore drilling. That report is due in July.

Numerous other investigations, including one by a panel appointed by President Obama, have found that BP’s drilling practices, Halliburton’s cement work and Transocean’s operation of the rig all contributed to the accident.

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