An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, drilling experts said Thursday...
Regulators have previously identified problems in the cementing process as a leading cause of well blowouts, in which oil and natural gas surge out of a well with explosive force. When cement develops cracks or doesn't set properly, oil and gas can escape, ultimately flowing out of control. The gas is highly combustible and prone to ignite, as it appears to have done aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which was leased by BP PLC, the British oil giant.
Concerns about the cementing process—and about whether rigs have enough safeguards to prevent blowouts—raise questions about whether the industry can safely drill in deep water and whether regulators are up to the task of monitoring them.
The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week. The disaster, which killed 11, has left a gusher of oil streaming into the Gulf from a mile under the surface.
Federal officials declined to comment on their investigation, and Halliburton didn't respond to questions from The Wall Street Journal.
Halliburton, you might recall, was the former employer of one "Dick" Cheney. (You may also recall that KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, electrocuted 12 GIs through incompetence and negligence.) Interestingly, another feature of the oil well disaster story is emerging as well. Another excerpt from the Marxist/Socialist/Terrorist Wall Street Journal:
The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn't have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.
The lack of the device, called an acoustic switch, could amplify concerns over the environmental impact of offshore drilling after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig last week.
The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn't needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.
As a third line of defense, some rigs have the acoustic trigger: It's a football-sized remote control that uses sound waves to communicate with the valve on the seabed floor and close it.
An acoustic trigger costs about $500,000, industry officials said. The Deepwater Horizon had a replacement cost of about $560 million, and BP says it is spending $6 million a day to battle the oil spill. On Wednesday, crews set fire to part of the oil spill in an attempt to limit environmental damage...
Industry critics cite the lack of the remote control as a sign U.S. drilling policy has been too lax. "What we see, going back two decades, is an oil industry that has had way too much sway with federal regulations," said Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. "We are seeing our worst nightmare coming true."
U.S. regulators have considered mandating the use of remote-control acoustic switches or other back-up equipment at least since 2000. After a drilling ship accidentally released oil, the Minerals Management Service issued a safety notice that said a back-up system is "an essential component of a deepwater drilling system."
The industry argued against the acoustic systems. A 2001 report from the International Association of Drilling Contractors said "significant doubts remain in regard to the ability of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency back-up control system during an actual well flowing incident."
By 2003, U.S. regulators decided remote-controlled safeguards needed more study. A report commissioned by the Minerals Management Service said "acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly." [End excerpt.]
And who was the oil industry's chief point-man in the government from 2001 to 2009? You know who. And guess which Bush Administration official pressured the Minerals Management Service to NOT require BP and other Gulf drillers to use the acoustic switch?
Take a wild guess.