The Chemical Safety Board, an independent government group that investigates chemical incidents, has thrown a wildcard into the debate over offshore safety. The CSB met in Houston last week and released a part of its report on the causes of the Macondo Disaster. One of the findings is a doozy.
It has been generally accepted that the drill pipe buckled after the blowout preventer’s blind shear ram failed and the explosion occurred. However, after a lengthy investigation, CSB says it believes the drill pipe buckled in the early moments of the well failure and that the buckling is what caused the blind shear ram to fail. The reasoning is highly technical and is based on the theory that a phenomenon called “effective compression” occurred. According to CSB, oil and gas rising up through the the riser caused pressure in the annular space to drop, while the pressure inside the drill pipe continued to rise. This pressure differential caused the pipe to buckle. Instead of cutting the pipe cleanly as was intended, the bend in the pipe caused the blind shear ram to puncture the pipe, increasing the oil release. This animation video explains the CSB theory:
It is a controversial theory and there will be a lot of debate over whether it was accurate. However, if correct, it means that one of the largest contributors to the uncontrolled release at Macondo could repeat itself.
The question is, what happens now. It has been four years since Macdondo and both industry and government agencies that oversee offshore oil and gas have undergone transformation change. We now have SEMS, we have created one new agency and the oil companies have advanced the technologies to control well blowouts. But no one has proposed a radical redesign of BOPs….until now.