A huge jolt convulsed an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipe down to the well on the ocean floor, more than a mile below, snapped in two. Workers battled a toxic spill.
That was 2003—seven years before last month’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people and sent crude spewing into the sea. And in 2004, managers of BP PLC, the oil giant involved in both incidents, warned in a trade journal that the company wasn’t prepared for the long-term, round-the-clock task of dealing with a deep-sea spill.
It still isn’t, as Deepwater Horizon demonstrates and as BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward said recently. It’s “probably true” that BP didn’t do enough planning in advance of the disaster, Mr. Hayward said. There are some capabilities, he said, “that we could have available to deploy instantly, rather than creating as we go.”
It’s a problem that spans the industry, whose major players include Chevron Corp, Royal Dutch Shell and Petróleo Brasileiro SA. Without adequately planning for trouble, the oil business has focused on developing experimental equipment and techniques to drill in ever deeper waters, according to a Wall Street Journal examination of previous deepwater accidents. As drillers pushed the boundaries, regulators didn’t always mandate preparation for disaster recovery or perform independent monitoring.
The brief, roughly two-decade history of deepwater drilling has seen serious problems: fires, equipment failures, wells that collapsed, platforms that nearly sank. Since last July, one brand-new deepwater rig—among the 40 or so operating in at least 1,000 feet of water in the Gulf—was swept by fire. Another lost power and started to drift, threatening to detach from the wellhead. Poor maintenance at a third deepwater well led to a serious gas leak, according to regulatory records. Read the rest of this entry »