The commission established by the White House last year to investigate the causes of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico says a series of mistakes by BP officials and others at the site led to the disaster. The report is likely to bolster efforts by the Obama administration to more tightly control offshore oil exploration and production.
In a report to be issued in full next week, the oil spill commission blamed cost-cutting decisions by BP as well as contractors Halliburton and Transocean for the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers. The commission also criticizes government regulators for failing to properly monitor the operation at the Macondo site in the Gulf of Mexico and take action that might have prevented what became the worst oil spill in history.
The excerpt from the report released Wednesday contradicts a statement from the commission in November that found no evidence that project workers had made errors as a result of cost-cutting efforts. A chart produced by the commission outlines a number of decisions that were aimed at saving time and money, but also increased risks.
BP issued a statement saying it supports the commission in its work to determine the causes of the disaster. The statement reads, in part: "BP is working with regulators and the industry to ensure that the lessons learned from Macondo lead to improvements in operations."
But Halliburton, the company that carried out a cement job at the site prior to the accident released a statement criticizing the commission for selectively omitting information. The commission report blames Halliburton for pumping cement into the well before looking at test data to make sure it was stable.
Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, also issued a statement objecting to commission criticism of its worker training and said final decisions on site were made by BP, which was the lead company involved in the operation.
The conclusions of the White House commission released so far are consistent with previous comments by panel members and the conclusions drawn by an independent scientific panel that looked into the disaster last year.
Ken Arnold, a Houston-based consultant to the oil and gas industry and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, says what he has seen so far of the commission report indicates that a series of human errors led to the accident.
"There were many decisions made which were not correct decisions," said Arnold. "If any one of them had not been made then the disaster would not have occurred. It was a line up of a series of bad decisions."
Arnold says measures taken by the government to tighten regulation will help reduce the chance of such an accident happening again offshore, but he says the possibility of human error is something no one can completely eliminate.
"Most of them will have a positive effect on safety, but I don't think you can say that you can prevent a disaster of this type from ever happening again, any more than you can say that we will never have an airplane fall out of the sky again," he said.
Ken Arnold, who has worked in the oil and gas industry for 45 years, says the overall record of deepwater oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere has been outstanding, with few major spills. He says, efforts to reduce risk and increase regulation are already causing a slowdown in production that will force the United States to import more oil to meet its growing demand for energy.
"There will be a decrease in the amount of oil produced by the United States over what would have been produced if this had not occurred and the longer we go on with the current system of not approving permits, the bigger the decrease will be," said Arnold.
Arnold says the commission's call for improved government oversight of offshore operations is understandable, but he says most of the people involved should have experience in the industry. He says only people with experience in the field are prepared to deal with the complexities involved in this industry.
Since the spill, the Obama administration has implemented new regulations and taken steps to strengthen federal oversight of offshore energy operations.