the audit

Congress Confirms WSJ‘s Story on BP’s Corner-Cutting

June 15, 2010

The evidence keeps stacking up that BP cut all kinds of corners to save time and money at the expense of safety while drilling the Deepwater Horizon well.

The Wall Street Journal goes A1 with congressional confirmation of its excellent BP story from three weeks ago.

In one case, BP engineers decided on April 16 to use just six so-called “centralizers” to stabilize the well before cementing it, instead of 21 as recommended by contractor Halliburton Corp. according to BP internal emails made public by the panel.

In their letter, the lawmakers say that BP’s well team leader, John Guide, “raised objections to the use of the additional centralizers” in an April 16 email released by the panel. “It will take 10 hrs to install them…I do not like this,” Mr. Guide wrote.

The lawmakers cited another BP email as an indication that “Mr. Guide’s perspective prevailed.” A BP official wrote in an April 16 email: “Who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.”

Ten hours. “Will probably be fine.” Good luck in court, guys!

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Again this points to how strange it is that these low-to-mid-level BP managers had their hair on fire. Somebody up the chain was putting pressure on these guys to get the well drilled. How far up the chain? How much pressure? We’re still waiting for those stories.

There’s also this, which the Journal reported last month:

Mr. Waxman also highlighted BP’s decision not to take 12 hours to completely circulate the heavy drilling fluid in the well, a step that would have allowed them to check if gas was leaking into the well and clean it out.

BP also skipped a test to determine if the cement had properly bonded to the well and rock formations, according to documents from oilfield service firm Schlumberger Ltd., whose crew was sent back to shore hours before the explosion.

While the test would have allowed BP to check if the cement job was adequate and allowed for repairs, it would have taken nine to 12 hours just for the test.

A petroleum engineer advising the congressional committee called the decision not to run a cement bond test “horribly negligent.”

I don’t know how much of this stuff would have come out without the Journal‘s earlier reporting, but you can bet it wouldn’t have come out this quickly. All the more reason to applaud the paper’s excellent work in the Gulf.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR’s business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.