Emails about BP oil spill rig say cement job went 'to plan'

An email exchange on the day the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded revealed that workers thought that the cementing of the well had gone “well”, it has emerged.

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An email exchange on the day the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded revealed that workers thought that the cementing of the well had gone “well”, it has emerged.

Cementing of the well, a job carried out by oilfield services company Halliburton, has been suspected of being a main cause of the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

According to the Financial Times, which managed to get hold of the emails, a Halliburton employee on the rig had told a colleague that the cementing job had been successful.

Cementer Nathaniel Chaisson sent the email to Jesse Gagliano, Halliburton’s account representative, on the morning of 20 April – the day of the explosion.

Furthermore, Gagliano emailed Mark Hafle, senior drilling engineer at BP, on 23 April, sending a him the “post job” report, which provided details including that the cement job was “pumped as planned”.

During an investigation of the accident by the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Management, Gagliano had said in the email exchange staff were referring to Halliburton carrying out its instructions correctly, rather than to whether or not the company had approved of the job, the FT reported.

In addition, the emails shed more light on a spat between BP and Halliburton over the number of centralisers used at the well. BP has been criticised for apparently trying to cut the costs of the cement job.

BP lawyers said that Gagliano had never stated in its job recommendation report that BP should use 21 centralisers to hold the casing centrally in the borehole, instead of just six. While Gagliano said this was true, he claimed he had alerted BP to the centralisers issue on April 15, recommending that 21 centralisers would “take care” of the channelling issues.

This is supported by another email trail seen by the FT, which shows BP’s drilling team discussing the possibility of flying in an additional 15 centralisers on 16 April – but new centralisers were not brought in.

An email from Gregory Walz, BP drilling engineering team leader, referred to BP’s Atlantis platform that has been criticised for alleged unsafe practices: “I wanted to make sure that we did not have a repeat of the last Atlantis job with questionable centralisers going into the hole.”

Halliburton told the FT that it believed that the cementing job had been “completed in accordance with the well owner’s specifications”.

It also reiterated its stance about the centralisers: “Halliburton raised concerns about the number of centralisers to be run and made recommendations regarding the cementing services provided; however, ultimately, Halliburton acted on the decisions of and at the explicit direction of the well owner.”

However, BP told the FT: “Halliburton was fully aware of the decision to use six centralisers to centre the long string production casing in the Macondo well. With this knowledge firmly in hand, Halliburton executed its proposed cementing plan and later reported to BP that the job had pumped as planned. If Halliburton harboured any significant concerns about the safety of the operation, then it had the moral and legal responsibility to refuse to perform the job.”

Meanwhile, Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig used by BP, has accused the British oil firm of withholding key data including computerised records and digital measurements. BP denies the accusations.

Among results from BP’s early investigation, serious failures of key IT-based automated and manual safety systems were highlighted as playing a part in the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A rig technician has subsequently claimed in federal testimony that safety systems were crashing and were switched off.

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