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BP, government praised for inventive response to oil spill

But the same report also delivered scathing indictments of the company, industry and federal agencies for a woeful lack of preparedness to deal with an environmental emergency in the Gulf of Mexico.

November 22, 2010|By Neela Banerjee | Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — — Facing the worst offshore oil disaster in American history, BP rapidly developed and implemented new technologies to contain the damage and the government watchdogs established "effective oversight," according to a report issued on Monday by the presidential panel investigating the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

But the rare praise for the way they responded once disaster struck was coupled with scathing indictments of how terribly unprepared the federal government, BP and the oil industry as a whole were for a deep sea oil well blowout.

Despite the fact that oil companies have been drilling for years in the Gulf of Mexico and the potential for problems was widely recognized, all those involved were essentially caught flat-footed when the BP platform exploded and sank.

"There were many success stories in the effort to control the Macondo well, including, but not limited to, the ultimate successes of capping and killing it," the report said. "And the speed with which government scientists, with little background in deep-sea petroleum engineering, established meaningful oversight was truly impressive."

"These remarkable efforts were necessary, however, because of a lack of advance preparation by industry and government," government investigators said.

The report, "Stopping the Spill: The Five-Month Effort to Kill the Macondo Well," is based on preliminary findings by the panel's staff.

The staff suggested that the president's blue-ribbon panel recommend that oil companies develop detailed plans on how to stop deepwater blowouts that would be reviewed by the government.

The draft report also called for the government to beef up its own expertise in petroleum engineering, in order to better manage any future oil disasters, and to find ways to give a fast, accurate estimate of the amount of oil flowing from a blowout, which took weeks to nail down during the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The report was issued in tandem with another working paper on the spill that covered response and cleanup technology used while oil was still pouring from the crippled well.

That report found that industry and the government had invested little in oil spill response and containment over the years.

"As a result, clean-up technology used during the Deepwater Horizon spill was dated and inadequate," according to the draft report, "Response/Clean-Up Technology Research & Development and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill."

After the Macondo oil well blew out on April 20 and immediate efforts to activate the blowout preventer at the well head failed, BP's only option for stanching the flow of oil seemed to be drilling relief wells, which has long been standard industry practice.

But over the next three months, teams of BP engineers worked simultaneously to develop other approaches to reduce or halt the flow of oil, an effort the report praised as "Herculean" and which bred technology that will be adopted by a new oil spill response outfit being organized by industry.

BP, for instance, managed to capture some of the leaking oil while it remained under water, sending it to tankers on the surface. In mid-July, it used a "capping stack", or a smaller version of a blowout preventer, to halt the flow of the oil into the Gulf, before pumping drilling mud into the well to "kill" it.

nbanerjee@tribune.com

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