New Orleans On shore, BP, Halliburton and Transocean are engaging in a billion-dollar blame game over the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. At sea, they’re depending on each other to finally plug up the environmental disaster.
Workers say the companies’ adversarial relationship before Congress, in public statements and maybe one day in the courts isn’t a distraction at the site of the April 20 rig explosion, where Transocean equipment rented by BP is drilling relief wells that Halliburton will pump cement through to permanently choke the oil well.
“Simply, we are all too professional to allow disagreements between BP and any other organization to affect our behaviors,” Ryan Urik, a BP well safety adviser working on the Development Driller II, which is drilling a backup relief well, said in an e-mail last week.
But at least one expert said government probes and potential for lawsuits can’t help but chill communication between the companies.
Urik’s rig was in a holding pattern Saturday, awaiting progress by its sister rig, the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well and ran into a minor snag while preparing for a procedure known as a static kill that will make it easier to stop the gusher for good.
The DDIII is clearing out debris that fell in the bottom of the relief well when crews had to evacuate the site last week because of Tropical Storm Bonnie.
Once the debris is cleared, engineers plan to start as early as Monday on the static kill, which involves pumping mud and possibly cement into the blown-out well through the temporary cap. If it works, it will take less time to complete another procedure known as a bottom kill, the last step to permanently sealing the well by pumping mud and then cement in from the bottom, which could happen by mid- to late August.
Workers know all about the clashes among their respective employers, “but the crews have done an excellent job of focusing on getting these relief wells finished safely,” Dennis Barber, a Transocean senior toolpusher aboard the DDII, said last week in an e-mail from the rig.
The roles of the three companies in the relief kill effort are much the same as they were on the Deepwater Horizon, the exploratory rig that blew up soon after a temporary cement cap was placed on its well, killing 11 workers. The conflicts began almost as soon as oil started flowing.
“Transocean’s blowout preventer failed to operate,” BP executive Lamar McKay said in Senate testimony in May, referring to the massive safety device atop the well that was supposed to bottle up the oil in an emergency.
Transocean CEO Steven Newman shifted blame in the same hearing, saying “all offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP.” He also noted that Halliburton was responsible for encasing the well in cement, while Halliburton executive Tim Probert said his company’s work was completed 20 hours before the rig went up in flames.
President Obama called the finger-pointing testimony a “ridiculous spectacle.”