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Pipe kept blowout preventer from stopping BP oil spill, report says

An investigation finds that when the Deepwater Horizon rig crew lost control of an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico in April, a section of drill pipe buckled and got stuck in the blowout preventer.

March 24, 2011|By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times
  • The blowout preventer stack, right, and lower marine riser stack, left, from the Deepwater Horizon stand at the NASA Michaud Assembly facility in New Orleans.
The blowout preventer stack, right, and lower marine riser stack, left,… (Gerald Herbert, Associated…)

The blowout preventer designed to shut down a BP well in an emergency couldn't stop a gusher of deep sea oil into the Gulf of Mexico because a damaged piece of drill pipe got in the way, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

When the Deepwater Horizon rig crew lost control of the well in April, the force of rushing oil buckled a section of drill pipe, which then became stuck in the blowout preventer. The safety device was activated, but the mangled pipe made it impossible for shearing rams to close and plug the flow of oil.

The report was compiled by Det Norske Veritas for the Interior Department after the contracting firm examined the blowout preventer as part of a series of investigations into the cause of the massive BP oil spill.

A key piece of emergency equipment, the blowout preventer was raised from the seafloor in early September and hauled to a NASA facility in New Orleans for forensic testing.

Had it worked, the blowout preventer might have averted the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The rig exploded April 20, killing 11 men and setting off a deep-sea leak that took months to stop. By the time the wellhead was capped in July, it had released more than 200 million gallons of crude into the gulf.

The next in a series of Coast Guard hearings on the disaster, scheduled for early next month in Louisiana, will deal with the findings on the blowout preventer.

Various investigations have attributed the rig explosion and spill to a series of missteps by the companies involved in the Deepwater operation, as well as lax regulation by the federal agency that oversaw deep-sea drilling in the gulf.

Cleanup crews were back at work on the Louisiana coast this week after a sheen of oil was reported Sunday. A Coast Guard spokesman said Wednesday that tests suggested the source was a leak from a well-capping operation, unrelated to BP, that has since been fixed.

Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said that although the sheen extended in patches along a 30-mile section of shoreline near Grand Isle, a total of no more than a half mile of beach had been soiled.

bettina.boxall@latimes.com

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