On March 20, the Department of the Interior released the final Deepwater Horizon autopsy report, Forensic Examination of Deepwater Horizon Blowout Preventor. You can view the entire document here, in this very large .pdf file. This report is full of great photos and illustrations, so it’s worth the time to download it and look. All illustrations in this section are taken from the report linked here.
To save time, they replaced the drilling mud meant to supply backpressure in the pipes with seawater — and it turned out the sea water couldn’t hold back the oil. They attempted to deploy a blowout preventor, which failed miserably.
A network of shearing rams is normally in place, ready to cut and crimp the pipe so that the oil flow stops. At Deepwater Horizon, though, the pipe wasn’t centered correctly with respect to the shearing blade. When they deployed the shearing ram, the pipe didn’t get properly cut or sealed. Another shearing ram that would have been in place was not deployable, although it wouldn’t have made a difference: it would have suffered the same failure as the first, because the pipe was off-center there, as well.
This created the leak that spilled for months.
The shearing ram should work like this:
By design, the pipe is in the center and it gets crimped as above. What happened in the Deepwater Horizon case was that the pipe was off-center as shown below, so the apparatus failed to properly cut and crimp the pipe. The diagram below is from a view rotated 90 degrees from the one above:
In the initial configuration, the pipe was not centered, and is shown at the bottom as the shearing ram closed. Below are photos of the actual pipe where the blowout prevention apparatus failed to seal it:
Frontline produced a documentary about Deepwater Horizon called The Spill, which chronicles BP’s record of cutting costs at safety’s expense, and their yet unfulfilled promises to change their culture.
British Petroleum has a track record of trying to take on too much too fast. In 2005, they had a refinery explosion in Texas, largely because they were cutting costs by using outdated infrastructure. In 2006, they spilled over 200,000 gallons of oil on the Alaskan north slope at Prudhoe Bay, because they were using outdated and corroded pipes. They are a company built on undelivered promises to improve their safety record — and still they drill on.
As BP took increasingly big risks to find oil and extract it, the company left behind a trail of mounting problems: deadly accidents, disastrous spills, countless safety violations. Each time, BP acknowledged the wider flaws in its culture and promised to do better. The FRONTLINE/ProPublica investigation shows that the rhetoric was empty. From the refineries to the oil fields to the Gulf of Mexico, BP workers understood that profits came first.
More from Climate Change News Roundup
Climate Change and Denial
- Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project delivers a huge blow to climate deniers. The Berkeley group, headed by Richard Muller — Berkeley physicist who is not a “denier,” but has been largely conservative in his opinions about the impacts of climate change — confirm that we are seeing substantial global warming, and that the effects the skeptics cite are marginal at best.
- How not to change a climate sceptic’s mind As a hearing in the US Congress last week showed, the evidence alone is not enough. If he’s trained to suspect a source of fact, all the facts in the world won’t help.
- Media stunner: New York Times partners with Shell Oil to peddle elite access. Did the New York Times partner with Shell to promote its greenwashing???
- Bill McKibbon: Japan’s horror reveals how thin is the edge we live on. Climate change [is not] responsible for the tsunami, but it is shrinking our margin of safety. It is time to shrink back ourselves.
- The Wisdom of Sustainability: Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century. “…providing a first-world lifestyle for all these billions of people seems a little farfetched. Even if [a first world] lifestyle isn’t pie-in-the-sky, how can it be funded? Can globalisation provide it?” The Ecologist takes a look.
Climate Change in US Politics
- EPA attacked about attempts to regulate fracking. The fight over fracking gains steam as the Frac Act gets reintroduced in congress.
- As food prices skyrocket, House committee calls for cutting food stamps instead of agriculture subsidies. The title speaks for itself.
Climate Policy Abroad
- Scottish government approves 10 MW tidal power station. “The array of 10 underwater turbines will be placed between the inner Hebridean islands of Islay and Jura, both well known for their malt whisky.”
Water, Natural Resources, Health, and EcoJustice
- Naomi Klein: “We must address inequality if we’re going to deal with climate change”. Part 2 of an interview with Rob Hopkins.
- Portable solar device creates potable water. Senior thesis project produces a simple solar device that will purify up to three liters of formerly undrinkable water per day.
- NSIDC: Annual maximum Arctic sea ice extent reached, “tied for the lowest in the satellite record.” “On March 7, 2011, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.64 million square kilometers (5.65 million square miles). The maximum extent was 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average of 15.86 million square kilometers (6.12 million square miles), and equal (within 0.1%) to 2006 for the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record.”
- Top 19 Solutions to the Global Fresh Water Crisis. South African Wine News published a list created by Sustainable Water Resource South Africa.