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The BP Oil Spill Blame Game

05 May 2010

As convoluted and unlikely as the circumstances leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster seem to have been, there's little proof to bolster Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion Monday that this might have been an "act of God."

Though God was not immediately available for comment on the governor's statement, it seems more likely that mere mortals were to blame.

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward has insisted it wasn't BP's fault: "The drilling rig was a Transocean drilling rig; it was their equipment that failed, it was their systems and processes that were running it."

Onlookers are even dissing the Minerals Management Service for awarding Transocean a safety award last year.

BP shareholders though, blame BP for insufficient oversight of its contractors.

Further down the fingerpointing line is Halliburton, which was contracted to cement the production liner in the well casing, effectively sealing off the reservoir from the wellbore. The rig explosion occurred some 20 hours after Halliburton finished its cement job, and the company says its workers had tested it and everything looked fine. Somehow, somewhere, the cement leaked.

Even so, any trouble with the well caused by a kick of natural gas should have been controlled by the muds used to manage pressure in the hole, or by the blowout preventer, manufactured by Cameron. Hard to point the finger at Cameron though, as the equipment had been in use for nine years without incident.

Some well-placed sources have even suggested that Transocean does too much preventative maintenance, dissembling and rebuilding components more than necessary, raising the risk of introducing a mechanical problem where none existed before.

Which makes it increasingly likely that as the inquiries get under way the myriad fingers will turn from pointing at faceless companies and turn instead to the rig's subsea engineer, who would have been responsible for keeping the BOP operational. It's unclear at this point whether he was one of the 11 who perished in the disaster. If he is dead, then all the companies in question will have some incentive to make the buck stop with him.

Or not. Environmental toxicologists are now saying that the oil dispersants being sprayed on the oil slick are more detrimental to the Gulf environment than the oil itself.

At some point this well will be capped. Even if God didn't cause the disaster, hopefully he'll give a helping hand to the guys trying to end it. Wild Well Control (a division of Superior Energy Services) is building massive concrete and steel boxes that within weeks should be lowered on top of the leaking wellhead to suck up the oil. BP engineers have also hatched a plan to install a new BOP on top of the malfunctioning one.

The lasting solution is the so-called "relief" well, which aims to somehow intersect the original 7-inch wide wellbore thousands of feet under the seabed. That new well was begun, or spudded, Monday. Their divine guidance: gyroscopes.