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During the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident there were many actions taken by the operator, BP, and a variety of investigations being undertaken mainly by the US Coastguard, but also by some senate committees. During the months following the accident I wrote a number of articles, which were intended to inform my readers - if any - of the technicalities which were not always made clear, and of the progress being made. This narrative combines the articles.


The explosion and fire on the semi-submersible drilling rig “Deepwater Horizon” on Tuesday 20th April 2010, with the loss of 11 lives, and its subsequent capsize and sinking, has prompted me to write something about the manner in which jobs of this sort are usually carried out, and how the related risks are minimised. Of course we have no idea what went wrong on the rig, but almost certainly there was a leak of hydrocarbons from the well which ignited at deck level What follows is not intended to suggest what might have gone wrong on the rig. It just provides some information for those who have an interest, but who do not have detailed knowledge of the work. This is an update. See "Features" for previous:

Amidst further comment and speculation about the progress of the intervention by BP into the reservoir blowout in the Gulf of Mexico we get almost hourly updates on what is happening. The senior BP management continue to say it is not their fault, but of course those who understand something about the way these activities are undertaken, will know that the oil company, even though they may not own the equipment being used, can be responsible for the problem. A major component of the continued safety of the operation is the well plan, and no matter what other stuff is involved, the well plan must be correctly designed, taking into consideration any identified downhole problems and the reservoir structure. The BOP is the last ditch stand. So, unless something new has happened in this business, when some stuff comes bubbling up onto the drill floor several barriers will have already failed, but the driller can reach behind him and press the button to activate the BOP, or at least part of it.

 And if this activation is unsuccessful – failing to shut off the well flow – and if the rams activated were the shear rams, what on earth will any additional means of operating the BOP do? The Norwegians require acoustic means of BOP operation to be available, so that some-one in a lifeboat can dangle a transmitter over the side and operate the BOP. All one can say is that the Norwegians, earnest about safety as they are, tend to go for the ambulance at the bottom of the hill rather than the fence at the top. I hope this analogy is clear. And of course all this extra clobber on the BOP is likely to make it less reliable. Deep water BOPs are already complex bits of kit, because of the differences in pressure between the surface and the seabed. But as I have already said, they are the last barrier in the prevention of a blowout, not the first barrier.

 But to get back to the current efforts  to stem the flow, today it has been announced that an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) known throughout the BP press releases so far as a “submarine”, has been successful in stemming one of the leaks. What this means of course is that a little more oil is going to come out of the other two leaks, but never mind. All will be well they hope, or at least better when the containment device is lowered over one of the remaining leaks. Apparently the Discoverer Enterprise is to be used to recover the oil and process it, and in fact store quite a bit of it. The obvious means of deployment would be for the dome to be loaded onto the drill ship, for it to be connected up to the drill string and for it then to be lowered towards the seabed. The drill ship will certainly be provided with a means of moving this object, large as it is, underneath the drill floor. The drill string could then be connected to the top and it could be lowered towards the seabed. What seems to militate against this is the fact that the cranes on the ship are not rated for 90 tonnes, apparently the weight of the structure. Like the Deepwater Horizon was, the Discover Enterprise is dynamically positioned so it does not need any moorings.

 I note that there are two apertures on the sides of the structure to be lowered, one labelled riser, and one labelled drill string and I assume that there will be a choice as to which one is used depending on how far the drill string is sticking out of the end of the riser. Either the box will be lowered over the end of the pipe, or the end of the riser, and it will sink into the mud – they hope - until the horizontal bits which are attached half way down get to the seabed. If the drill pipe is not used to lower the box, it will be lowered on a wire from a support vessel, and what-ever way it happens an ROV will be used to observe its position. When it is above the leak it will be lowered away into the correct position. An ROV would be used to disconnect the wire and assist with the connection of the drill pipe – if that is what is needed.

 Well fluids can then make their way up the drill string. They are lighter than water, and doubtless there will be a valve at the top so the flow can be stopped if necessary. It sounds as if the intention is to process the oil and then store it in the tanks on the ship. A barge has also been mentioned so one assumes that once the ship is full, the barge will be moored alongside and then filled up.

In the past I have been involved in risk assessments to assist in the recovery of offshore mobile units from emergency situations, and one hopes that this intended process has been suitably reviewed. As well as making it more likely that everyone will remain safe, often a degree of reality can be injected into a plan which may be a bit over optimistic.

 Below is a diagram of what the set-up might look like when the Discoverer Enterprise is in position.


Update on 7th May - the US Coastguard have published pictures of the containment device being lowered into the sea using a crane on the DP rig Q4000. Once it gets into position, assuming this is successful ROVs will be used to disconnect the lifting gear from the device and in some way a pipe will be connected to the top.

A picture of the Q4000 follows:

Photo Oddgeir Refvik.

17th MAY 2010

Today, 17th May, BP have announced that they have stemmed the leak, apparently by means of inserting a flexible tube into the end of the riser and channelling the oil flow to the drill ship Discoverer Enterprise on the surface. The Discoverer Enterprise has on  board the plant required to separate the gas from the oil, and is flaring off the gas, and is storing the oil in its tanks. Apart from anything else, this process will provide everyone with a good indication as to what the actual flow of oil from the well might be, since the storage capacity of the drill ship is known. The possible flow has been estimated as being as little as 1000 barrels per day and as much as 80,000 barrels per day. The upper figure seems to be pretty unlikely however. Today's announcement should bring some relief to the people on the gulf coast, to the US administration and also to BP. There seems to have been general amazement that the well could not just be turned off, but as everyone in the business knows, that not the way it works.

Over the last few days those of us who are still following this story have seen some witness statements appearing in the press, which, give us the opportunity of finding out just a bit more about what happened, or at least what was going on at the time. Apparently the supply ship Damon B Bankston was attached to the rig by a hose when the blowout occurred and was engaged in the task of backloading mud. Already I realise that I am lapsing into industry speak, so we'll back track a bit.
The Tidewater platform ship Damon B Bankston, photographed by Oddgeir Refvik
It seems that the well that the Deepwater Horizon had been drilling was all over bar the shouting. They would have successfully drilled into the reservoir, maintaining the integrity of the well bore and the rig, by ensuring that the oil and gas down there was kept in the proper place by the column of mud and the pressure of the pumping system. Mud or as it is more correctly known "drilling fluid" is made up of some form of oil ( they used to use diesel oil once) or water, together with chemicals, mainly baryte, which is pumped down the hole using very large pumps. The ones on the Deepwater Horizon were capable of pumping at a pressure of 7500 psi. This fluid is stored in tanks on the rig, and as well as providing a hydrostatic head brings back to the surface the debris produced by the drilling operation. While the well is being drilled the returns are analysed by mud engineers to determine what the formation is like, and whether there is any gas or oil about. Back on the rig the mud is cleaned and then pumped back down the well, and the weight of the mud plus the pressure created by the pumps keeps everybody safe.

So having been through the process of drilling the well, including casing it, which means inserting steel pipe for the whole depth, something will be done with it. If there is no oil down there, or not enough to warrant further work the well will be plugged with cement and the wellhead removed by one means or another. In the old days they always used explosives but it is possible that more scientific techniques are used today. Even if it is intended that the well will be re-entered, as was to be done in this case, it will be plugged with cement and left with just the wellhead sticking out of the seabed. So that's where they were apparently on the afternoon of 20th April. The well had been plugged with cement, and the Tidewater platform ship Damon B Bankston was attached to take the mud back to base for re-processing. There would probably have been mud in the tanks, or pits as they are known, and also mud in the well and the riser. Eventually it would all be displaced with seawater, because if the well was plugged with cement, and all the work was finished, there were be no need for the hydrostatic head.

At some point during the discharge of the mud from the rig to the ship the blowout took place, and a report by a journalist who had interviewed one of the crew said that a plume of mud and gas could be seen spurting into the air like a geyser. Apparently the ship was then instructed to let go the hose and stand off 500 metres. Within a couple of minutes there was an explosion and fire and all the lights went out.

What then of the blowout preventer, the BOP, you might ask. Well who knows. The first thing to say is that as far as the guys on the rig were concerned, even though it was still there on the seabed, they would probably not be considering it necessary for the maintenance of safety, because the cement plug was doing that. So there would be no-one's finger hovering over the buttons. And much has been said about BOP testing and BOP failures, and even about the numerous failure modes that there might be in this sort of equipment. Is the poor old drilling industry to be hoist for testing the gear? Those familiar with reliability science would tell you that the availability of equipment is determined by testing, and also that the time for which the equipment is required to be reliable is taken into account. For instance, in calculating the reliability of the equipment used for space flights, they know it only has to last for the duration of the flight. Similarly BOPs only have to last - to remain reliable - for the duration of the well, but if one is to make use of this knowledge you have to test the BOP and correct any failures before attaching it to the end of the riser and lowering it to the seabed. And as I have said before, deep water BOPs are extremely complex beasts. So who knows about the BOP. We have not heard what the actual status of the rams was after accident. Were they all still unfired, unactioned, or were they all closed about the drill pipe, with finally the shear rams almost meeting but held apart by some bits of metal in the wrong place, allowing the pressure in the reservoir to force the oil out. And what were those ROVs actually trying to do with the BOP? We little people on the outside have no idea.

So, regardless of what was happening down on the seabed, gas and oil made it to the drill floor, and of course a small volume of gas 23,000 feet down will expand quite a bit on its way up. Once more we don't know what actually happened but a sufficient volume of gas could envelope the rig seeking out any possible ignition sources. We should remember that this rig was dynamically positioned, meaning that its computers were using satellites, and probably beacons on the seabed, to identify the required position and that this information would be being transferred to the thrusters which would be turning and whirring to hold the rig over the well. The thrusters were powered by 6 Wartsila engines developing 58,000 bhp. Of course the engines can provide ignition sources and worse, they can be fuelled by gas so that even if you turn them off they don't stop. It is possible to fit engines with valves in the air intakes, which overcomes this problem, but in the case of the Deepwater Horizon would they have wanted to stop the engines since they are the means by which the rig is kept in position, or possibly changing the position. Whether those in control on the rig stopped the engines or not, survivors reported that all the power went off and that there was an explosion, possibly not in that order. So now the rig was left, being held in position by the riser, with the product from the well burning on deck. It must have been truly terrifying.

28TH MAY 2010

By today, 28th May 2010 everyone in the western world must be aware that things have not been going well for BP in the Gulf of Mexico, nor have they been going well for the American Government, the President and the Chief Executive of the Minerals Management Service, the authority which has up to today controlled the issuing of licences to drill, the collection of revenues and the management of safety in US offshore waters. Apart from what's happening out there at sea, in the choppy waters of the political ocean President Obama has attempted to create a lee by banned further deepwater drilling for six months and demanding the suspension of operations on 33 wells in the Gulf. Also the chief executive of the MMS has either been sacked or resigned, depending on which paper you read.

The well which had been being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon has continued to release oil into the Gulf, although BP had  achieved some success with the tube inserted into the end of the riser connected to the Discoverer Enterprise, which was collecting a proportion of the discharge. As things stand today the blowout preventer is still attached to the wellhead, and the riser, a 21 inch pipe, itself still attached to the top of the BOP, is lying like a strand of partly cooked spaghetti on the seabed. Most of the pictures seen so far have been of the end of the riser, from which the drill pipe protrudes, and from which oil can be seen belching out. The position of the rig itself which sank on 22nd April still burning furiously, is probably known to some-one,  but this has not been revealed to the general public. It is worth remembering now, in the rising tide of public indignation over the threats to the environment, that eleven guys died in the explosion on the rig on 20th April, and the more cynical of us would be wondering whether the event would still be news, and whether anyone would still be interested, if the rig had remained afloat, and the well had ceased to flow.

So today there apparently is progress as BP initiate a "top kill", pumping heavy mud into the well through the choke and kill lines. This is known in the industry as "bullheading". They have been doing this for about 24 hours and have stopped pumping recently to see whether the well is still flowing, and now have resumed this operation. There are loads of pictures and diagrams available of what is happening, and on the BP site there are graphics of the BOP with the manifold and pipework and the drillpipe from the rig, the Q4000. Indeed many of the vessel involved have been named. Because some of the mud is is not going down the well, but is rising through the BOP and can be seen exiting the end of the riser, the company has large quantities of mud on site in the large all aft Hornbeck support vessels the HOS Centreline and the HOS Strongline. Each of these vessels is capable of carrying over 30,000 barrels (4700 m3) of mud as well as much else. These ships are Hornbeck conversions, and when I updated the Hornbeck page on my website I left them out because I thought they would never be any use to anyone. It just shows how wrong you can be. There are also other well stimulation vessels hovering about in case they are needed, and the distinctive Ulstein SX 121, the Viking Poseidon, can be seen in many of the pictures probably providing ROV services, as is the DOF construction ship Skandi Navica.

This is the top of a riser at what is known "the slipjoint". The wires leading upwards are the riser tensioners, supporting some of the weight of the riser. They are part of the complex system which allows the rig itself to move while the connection to the well is maintained. The flexibles connecting the rig to the choke and kill lines can be seen on either side.

But back to the choke and kill lines, which no-one actually bothers to explain. The choke and kill lines are connected to the BOP and, as shown in the diagrams, are piped in between or beneath the rams, so as to give the rig the maximum flexibility in their operations. These lines run up the sides of the riser and, under the drill floor of the rig, they are piped to something called the standpipe manifold, which itself is connected to the mud pumps and often the cement unit pump as well because of the higher pressures which this pump can usually achieve. What all this stuff can do is control a kick, an excess of pressure in the well. If everything works out, the pressure is detected and some of the rams in the BOP will be closed so that the overpressure is contained. From this point the choke lines and valves can be used to bleed off the pressure and the kill lines can be used to inject heavier mud into the well to control the problem. Once equilibrium is achieved the job can continue. From the initial report of the congressional investigation it seems that the drill crew on the Deepwater Horizon may have done exactly this more than once  during the hours before the disaster.

Now it seems that the ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) have managed to make these lines available at the BOP and have connected up flexible pipes to them from a manifold which must have been constructed to allow the team to control the flow to the various entry points between the rams. This in itself is something of an achievement since the BOPs are not built to be ROV operable, no matter what recent reports may say. And to digress for a moment, there is a difference between wellhead manifolds, which are intended to remain permanently in position on the seabed, and BOPs, which although they are also positioned on top of the wells being drilled, are deployed from the rig and recovered at the end of the job. The wellhead manifolds are now always constructed so that their valves can be operated by ROV - hot stabs as they are known - but as I said, not so the BOPs.

Although the oil industry has spent time trying the dispel the wildcat image which it used to have, there is no getting away from it, they have always worked at the edge of what was technically possible, particularly at sea. And most of the accidents in years gone by, which have resulted in major loss of life have been as a result of marine failures. These include the Sea Gem in UK, the Ocean Ranger in Canada and the Alexander Keilland in Norway. Of course the Piper Alpha accident in UK waters was due to a processing failure. It was oil stuff, not marine stuff, and it resulted in a complete change to the way that offshore safety was dealt with in the UK. There are today the first signs that the loss of the Deepwater Horizon will initiate a similar change in the Gulf of Mexico.

4TH JUNE 2010

It is now Friday 4th June, and as I think that the drama for BP, and the US Administration is over I am proved wrong. The fateful hours before the loss of the Deepwater Horizon on 20th April and eleven members of its crew are gradually being made known to the public at large from a variety of sources. Transocean are still saying nothing, but BP themselves and the US government investigators are beginning to reveal a little of what they have learnt. One expert has questioned the displacement of the drilling fluid (mud), with seawater, saying that this was the final straw in a catalogue of errors. Whether this was so or not, there at least appear to have been signs before the event that all was not well.

The other day I was talking to a small group of people about seafaring, and in the questions about the oil spill I realised that no-one really knew what "mud" was. And despite the many superb graphics provided by both the operator (I realise that I am also using oil industry speak - Operator, the person who is in charge of the well) and others, they have still failed to explain what mud is, how it relates to a "junk shot" and actually what these "robots" are. And of course there is the riser, or more commonly in the media, the pipe which the robots have been cutting before the latest "cap" has been put in position.

In my last article I described the riser as appearing to be a string of partially cooked spagetti  lying on the seabed. In its operational state the riser is a set of lengths of 21" pipe bolted together, and it appears that as the rig sank the riser broke off, so that it was still connected to the top of the BOP (Blowout preventer) which in turn was still connected to the wellhead. The riser had originally be 5000 ft long (the distance from the seabed to the underside of the Deepwater Horizon drill floor), but the length up to the break which had previously been the subject of BP's attentions was not revealed. You may remember that they had attempted to recover oil from the end of the riser with only moderate success, and that then they had tried this "top kill" using the choke and kill lines of the BOP. This second effort was actually pretty ingenious and must have tested the ROV pilots to the limits of their capabilities. At the end of it they had managed to install a manifold which allowed them to use different parts of the BOP pipework, and through which they were able to pump "mud". And here I realised that mud to the people I was talking to in Madrid was sort of stirred up earth and water, and that this view seemed to be supported by the fact that BP were also considering a "junk shot", which was described by them as a possible combination of human hair, golf balls and bits of rubber tyres.

Their idea was that they were going to pump mud, which is a combination of oil of some sort and chemicals, mainly baryte,  into the well and eventually to create a hydrostatic head which would tame the discharge. The second string in this particular campaign was to be the junk shot, which I summise would have been intended to close the gap in the BOP which is letting all that stuff out towards the surface. If they tried it, it did not work, so the ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) were sent in again with big saws to cut the riser off just above the BOP.

Apparently the live feed from the ROVs was fascinating viewing. This is a new world we can watch dramas as they are happening, because everything is being recorded or at least presented on a screen somewhere. The ROVs are not robots in any sense of the word. They are small neutrally buoyant devices which can be manoeuvred by means of their small thrusters, and which are provided with tools on their little arms. Without the ROV the offshore oil industry could never have made it beyond the maximum  depth which can be achieved by live divers.

This is a work ROV about to be launched. The whole set will take it down to its working depth, and then the bottom bit, known in the media as the robot will be able to move away from the top hat bit. This saves a lot of time. This one is fitted with a device for doing something to vertical tubulars. Photo: Derek MacKay.

So the ROVs managed to cut the riser off above the BOP, and then a connection was achieved with a set-up lowered from the Discoverer Enterprise. We should not lose sight of the fact that this is not just a matter of connecting one pipe to another and then collecting the oil on the surface. If a good connection is made with the well then the Discoverer Enterprise is exposed to the same risks as was the Deepwater Horizon, hence there is what they call an LMRP, Lower Marine Riser Package, above this connection. The description indicates that within this structure there is a "bag preventer" which is capable of expanding and therefore restricting or cutting off the oil flow.

What can one say. The relief wells are being drilled. The US President is, this day, on the coast showing how concerned he is. The Managing Director of BP has not left America since the the media storm commenced, and I hope that I am contributing in a small way towards an understanding of an event which may change the face of offshore drilling in the US Gulf for good.

10TH JUNE 2010

By Thursday 10th June I am beginning to feel a bit sorry for BP, now Beyond Petroleum rather than British Petroleum. I always thought that, despite their generally overbearing attitude, they could look after themselves, but how can one protect oneself from the invective issuing from the mouth of no lesser person than the President of the United States, who has repeated this day that he will keep his boot on the throat of the offending company, which is BP America - formerly Amoco.  The President is also suggesting that BP should meet the unemployment benefit for the people who have been put out of work by his moratorium on exploration drilling in water depths of over 500 feet. This was an instruction issued for political reasons, and  does not have much bearing on reality - lets face it America is short of oil and uses more than it should. In addition there seem to be about fifteen congressional committees waiting to get at anyone from BP that they can.

On the positive side the latest plan, to directly cap the BOP of the Deepwater Horizon with a specially constructed piece of well control equipment connected to the Discoverer Enterprise is working pretty well. They say that they are recovering about 12000 bbls a day - this is approximately 2000 m3, and at $70 a barrel the value for the recovery is about $840,000 per day, but I did not intend to get into money. The Discover Enterprise was the first of Transocean's deepwater drill ships to be constructed and was based on an FPSO hull, so it has considerable storage space for the oil. BP are also working on a system to recover more oil using the previously installed manifold connected to the Deepwater Horizon choke and kill lines. And if you have just become a visitor to my site for the first time it will be necessary to review the older articles on this topic to find out what I am talking about. The say that this new modification will keep the system operable as the hurricane season approaches. Alarmingly they say that the hurricane season has already started, but in fact one does not usually see any high winds until late August in the region.

But amidst all this political posturing and undignified shouting one should remember that eleven of the Deepwater Horizon crew members lost their lives in the accident, and that the rig is now on the seabed 5000 feet below the surface, and that there is little chance of recovering any part of it. It may be that there are ROVs already looking at the wreck, but if so we are not being told. The US Minerals Management Service has been good enough to publish two sternly written letters from very important American admirals, reminding BP of what the government expects of them, and two days of witness interviews have also been published. These took place at the end of May, and provided just a glimpse of what took place before the explosion and during it.

There appears to have been some disagreement between the BP supervisor on the rig and the senior Transocean drilling personnel about whether the mud in the riser should be displaced with seawater. And it may be that this disagreement was based on the lack of certainty about the status of the well. Interestingly the senior BP supervisor has not given evidence on the basis that his testimony might incriminate him - known as "taking the fifth". It also seems that it was one of the main engines which ended up being fuelled by gas and which blew up, and caused the ignition of the well fluids, and the eventual loss of the rig.

The focus of many of the questions from the US Coast Guard  was on compliance with the ISM Code (International Ship Management Code), and the senior BP safety man interviewed did not know what this was. He is an occupational health man and this may be an indication of the focus in the offshore industry on slips trips and falls. For years the measure of safety on an oil rig has been the number of days which have passed since there was last an accident which resulted in the injured person being prevented from working - an LTA (Lost Time Accident). Today most companies have slightly more sophisticated systems, but the principal has remained the same. The means of measuring the safety of a unit has been the number of minor accidents which have taken place - however measured. The less of these one has, the more chance there is of the rig being hired.

The lack of these minor accidents provides a sort of comfort feeling, since the traditional approach has always been that they are the bottom of a triangle the upper point of which would be an accident of catastrophic proportions - such as the Deepwater Horizon. However in my research for my book "Supply Ship Operations" I found an article by a Professor Groeneweg of Leiden University who suggested that the emphasis on occupational accidents has, if anything, reduced the possibility of the identification of major hazards.

However, I realise that I am getting into the politics of safety on which I have pretty strong views, and now may not be the time. But it will be, and one hopes that the investigations which take place will be thorough and that they will result in the appropriate changes in the Minerals Management Service, or indeed some other body's systems which will improve workplace safety on offshore installations in the Gulf of Mexico. The means of the saving of life is not always the same as the the means of prevention of pollution, so they should keep the priorities in view.

15TH JUNE 2010

It is now the middle of June nearly two months after the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, and there seems to be a subtle change in the  direction of the public statements which relate to the official line on the sinking of the rig, the death of eleven of the crew and the subsequent massive release of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It now seems that the well is pumping an almost unbelievable 40,000 bbls of oil per day into the sea. What bad luck we would think, in other circumstances, that BP should find probably the most productive single well in the Gulf of Mexico and then fail to keep hold of it. No wonder it was being difficult.

What seems to be happening is that BP are gradually gaining the experience necessary to deal with a problem which no-one has faced before, and are succeeding in the operations currently in place, and have plans for improving the recovery process and for providing redundancy. By 11th of this month the Discoverer Enterprise had recovered over 100,000 bbls of crude oil using the LMRP system described in the previous article. The ship is positioned over the well using GPS and a dynamic positioning system and is connected by a rigid pipe to the LMRP and then to the top of the Deepwater Horizon BOP. In order to discharge the current cargo and hence make space available for further oil, the tug/barge combination Massachusetts was loaded with 115,000 bbls of crude and sent off to a refinery for discharge. It says something for their confidence in the weather that  this tug/barge combination was sent fifty miles offshore and must have lain alongside the Discoverer Enterprise to be loaded.

Meanwhile the Q4000 is being, or has been, connected up to the choke and kill lines of the Deepwater Horizon by means of probably the same system as was used to attempt the well kill earlier. It also appears that the whole of the product recovered to this rig is being burnt off rather than stored and sent to the shore. This will be being done by the use of multiple well test burners, which are traditional bits of oilfield equipment and will probably successfully dispose of up to 20,000 bpd (barrels per day), the only problem being the possibility of melting bits of the rig if the water curtain is not efficient. 

As well as the Q4000, a dynamically positioned semi-submersible, there are currently on the location three construction vessels which provide most of the ROV services. These are the Skandi Neptune, the Viking Poseidon and the Ocean Intervention III, all of them incidentally Norwegian, but apparently able to work in the Gulf because they are not carrying cargo. There are also numerous smaller vessels at the wellsite engaged in skimming oil from the surface. And there are now plans, according to a letter from BP to Rear Admiral James Watson of the American Coastguard, for the whole system to be upgraded into a more or less conventional FPSO/shuttle tanker operation. This is principally to provide a means of continuing with the recovery process as the hurricane season approaches. It appears from the letter that a suction pile has been installed, and to this a flexible line (riser) is to be attached terminating in a subsea buoy. From this buoy a connection will be made to the Toisa Pisces which is a well testing vessel, and so already has the processing equipment on board. Apparently it is still being modified, one assumes so that it can be connected by flexible to a shuttle tanker. The Hilex Producer, another well testing vessel is to be similarly modified and there are three shuttle tankers coming from Europe, including the recently commissioned Loch Rannoch.

This is a photograph of the Toisa Pisces, taken in 2004 by Ron Jansen.

BP's letter describes the possible problems with their plans including the difficulties which may result from having all these vessels in quite a small area. I'm not sure whether they have missed it or if the system has already been tested elsewhere, but traditionally there are possible problems in the operation of dynamically positioned shuttle tankers, and as far as I am aware there have never been offtake operations which involved two dynamically positioned vessels. However there are almost continuous operations between  moored FPSOs and DP tankers, and one of the problems is "yo-yoing" where the connection between the two vessels tightens up, and in addition the DP system also registers loss of position and propels the ship forward. Of course it ends up too close and the DP system goes into reverse - and so on. How will this go with two vessels in DP mode?

Meanwhile the investigation into the events before the accident are beginning to uncover exchanges between the BP engineers who appear to have made changes to the well plan but "expect that it will all be OK in the end". And the senate committee questioning five top men from the oil industry are suggesting that BP have remained more interested in trying to limit their liability than in sorting out the problem. From our distant view across the Atlantic we'd be bound to say to those who administer the most litigious country in the world  "Well whose fault is that?"

22ND JUNE 2010

There is now so much information on the internet about the loss of the Deepwater Horizon that it is difficult to keep up. Now on 22nd June, two calendar months since the rig sank, taking to the seabed with it one assumes, the bodies of the eleven men who died during the emergency, the investigation into the event, and the battle on the beaches of Louisiana and Florida against the oil spill, have almost been forgotten as American senators vie with each other in a competition to see who can be nastiest to BP, and who can make the best use of the tragedy. The old maxim of never letting a good disaster go to waste seems to be uppermost in their minds.  And it does not seem as if the senior management of BP have done much to help themselves, despite their apparent success in reducing the outflow of oil.

So what was going on out there in the oilfield? The Discoverer Enterprise was still recovering between fifteen and twenty thousand barrels a day of crude oil using the modified LMRP and the Q4000 was recovering several thousand barrels a day using the kill line from the BOP connected to the manifold which had been installed to carry out the top kill, and by the way, if you are new to this narrative, most of the terms are explained in the previous articles or in the Glossary of Terms. The Discoverer Enterprise is storing the results in its tanks and then offloading them to a tug and barge system, while the Q4000 is burning off the results.

During last week this status was confirmed at a press conference conducted by Admiral Thad Allen of the Coastguard. He also confirmed that the Development Driller III is progressing well with the drilling of the relief well, and behind it Development Driller II is also drilling a relief well. Both of these rigs are owned by Transocean, a point made by Mr Weaver of Transocean when he appeared before the Senate transportation Sub-Committee on 17th June, of which more later. Admiral Allen also updated us on the status of the systems which are to replace the current processes in the future, but in this regard we do not see much difference at the moment.

So while operations have virtually become a steady process, the politics have been nothing like this. The week ended with BP's Tony Hayward going yachting on Saturday. He joined his son, apparently, in the annual Isle of Wight, Round the Island race on his yacht, or his son's yacht "Bob". It is possible that he was hoping to remain anonymous judging by the pictures of him in the media, but this was unsuccessful, which resulted in an outcry in America. What was he doing out there enjoying himself they asked. That boat should be helping with the oil spill, not engaging in pointless leisure activities, they said. Oh dear, why didn't he just stay at home and watch a bit of TV! This obvious PR error committed by Mr Hayward was preceded by one committed by the BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. On leaving the meeting with President Obama, at which BP agreed to fund the costs of the clean up up to a value of $20 billion he said "We care about the small people".

On the following day these words came back to haunt Tony Hayward who appeared before a senate committee for seven hours. There seemed to be lines of senators and there he was all by himself. He had apparently been tutored for the event by the PR firm Brunswick, but this did not seem to have helped much. I wondered how the senators have become so well informed as they asked pertinent questions about cement jobs, and single strings and casing hangers, and it appears that Tony Hayward did as well, since he seemed unable or unwilling to answer nearly all of their questions. As it turned out they had probably used the presentation on the investigation carried out by Halliburton, which made something of a different case from that made by the presentation from Transocean or the presentation from BP. The senators said that he was going to be sliced and diced, and sure enough he was, although what good all this did is questionable. His only relief was an apology quite close to the beginning of the hearing from Joe Barton who said that the  $20 billion contribution had been nothing more than a shakedown. However the senator retracted the apology later in the day. The hearing concluded with the senator Bart Stupak telling the BP Chief Executive "We are not small people but we wish to get our lives back", linking the gaff made by the chairman with one made earlier by the chief executive.

During the week the documents which had been submitted to the US Government by Halliburton, Transocean and BP also made it into the public domain, and sure enough there was the Halliburton information highlighting the differences and the number of barriers created by the different types of well casing. The one chosen by BP only created two barriers they said, while the one which they would have recommended created four barriers - they said. So there was the senate committee's information. The Transocean presentation was less helpful, really only indicating possible areas for further investigation, and showing the various times when the BOP was tested; something which has been called into question even on UK TV when it was claimed that one of the control pods was leaking. The BP presentation includes a great deal of data on the well, since in this modern era the information is transmitted to the shore in real time, and indicates where unexpected pressures in the well had been seen, and how the operation progressed. At least one expert has related the displacement of the mud with seawater to the accident, and the BP document suggests that at the very least this activity may have masked the fact that the well was flowing.  The data ceased to be received at 2131 on the day of the accident, and the first explosion was observed to have taken place at 2149. In between it is possible that the diverter was activated, that is, after the BOP shear rams were operated, and which failed to isolate the well. Obviously what happened during these eighteen minutes are critical to the investigation, and doubtless we will know more in time.

On Thursday 17th June the senate transportation subcommittee met to interview some people with a relevance to the Deepwater Horizon accident. They started off the Rear-Admiral Kevin Cook of the US Coastguard, who seemed to be constantly at a loss as he tried to explain to the senators the responsibilities of flag states, and ABS and the inspection regimes carried out on foreign flag vessels - flag state inspections. He made occasional references to the IMO (The International Maritime Organisation) and how the coastguard attempts to guide international legislation in ways which will best serve the United States and maritime safety in general. This did not seem to cut much ice with the members of the committee who ask whether anyone from the Marshall Islands (the flag of the Deepwater Horizon) ever visited any ships in US waters or had provided any assistance in the disaster, or whether the South Koreans had been involved in any way (The constructors of the Deepwater Horizon) or whether the Swiss had done anything at all (the country in which Transocean now resides). Of course most of this was actually grandstanding ( in my view) with the objective of making a point about the Jones Act, and how all vessels operating in US waters should be American built, American crewed and American flagged. This is of course the most extreme form of cabotage, and once more one wonders how it is contributing to the investigation, the saving of lives in the future and the saving of the Gulf coast, its wildlife and its beaches in the present.

16TH JULY 2010

16th July 2010. The other day I got an email which told me that BP was sorry for all the trouble they had caused, and that as a result I was going to be awarded $1,500,000 having been selected from all the holders of email addresses in the world. All I had to do as to contact an address in Malaysia. Meanwhile the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement has taken over from the Minerals Management Service, who have been generally dissed in Wikipedia to the point that the whole thing seems to be written by some-one with an agenda. The article claims that MMS employees had taken drugs and had sex with employees of the very companies they were supposed to be regulating. It sounds pretty alarming, and of course one sexual event does not make an orgy, no matter how you look at it. We should remember, as some sort of order may be coming into the process of shutting off the flow of oil, that the accident which resulted in the loss of the lives of eleven people, is not yet explained, despite the fact that the politicians in America are falling over themselves to enact legislation apparently to prevent a re-occurrence.

But things have generally been quiet for some time as BP and its subcontractors made some progress towards stemming the flow of the well. Readers of any of the reports on the events of the last couple of months will remember that initially Tony Hayward was saying that it was nothing to do with BP. It was all down to the ineffective BOP, and anyway not much oil was leaking. Many of us thought at the time that he must have been very poorly advised or else gone out on a lam all on his own. The relief wells have been initiated using the Development Driller III, and the Development Driller II, and today the first is only a few metres away from success. And here it may be necessary to divert from the main narrative a bit because I remember that the task I gave myself was to explain some of this stuff to the people who are not familiar with drilling operations. There are people on the internet predicting the end of the world as we know it, as the whole of the inside of the earth spews out through the hole in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes a good story but this is not the case. As a sort of emergency measure the operator tried a top kill, which was pumping mud (not that stuff to be found on river margins, but a heavy suspension of baryte in an oil-like fluid) into the well. But the pressure was too great, and the oil and gas being expelled, expelled the mud as well. The difference with the relief wells is that when one breaks through the casing - a miracle in itself - mud can be pumped in near the bottom of the well, and as it flows upwards the column gradually gains weight, until when it gets to the top there is enough weight to hold down the oil.

Meanwhile a new cap has been fitted to the stub above the BOP, and one presumes that this is connected to the Discoverer Enterprise. Since the change in the authorities from MMS to BOEM the information has become a bit hazy. We used to have a cap on the BOP and a manifold connected to the choke and kill lines, which were set up to access the well, and which were controlled from the semi-submersible Q4000. The Discoverer Enterprise was recovering oil  directly from the BOP and was storing it and them transferring it to a tug/barge combination and the Q4000 recovering oil from either the choke or the kill line and was burning it off. As part of the progress of the system a flexible riser (pipe to the uninitiated) has been connected to the other line either the choke or the kill line and is apparently connected to the Helix Producer - a well testing vessel. This recovery may be being offloaded into the dynamically positined tanker the Loch Rannoch, which was, when we were being offered more comprehensive information, on its way from the North Sea.

According to Admiral Thad Allen (Retiring according to Reuters) there is a fourth ship in there somewhere, possibly connected to the new cap which today 16th July is closed while the experts check the system. It seems possible that the idea of actually shutting off the well with this new cap had not occurred to anyone before, and one has to say, if it works why do anything else. What they are checking is whether there is any flow of oil from the casing into the substrata - a blowout which would not have any means of control at all. It's slowly slowly then, and if they detect that the oil is leaking away into the earth they will open all the valves again and continue to recover as much as possible to the ships on the surface. It seesm to me that it is nearly all over bar the shouting - but the shouting is going to go on for years.

30TH AUGUST 2010

It is now six weeks since I last wrote anything about the Deepwater Horizon accident, and while I have been away the investigators have been away as well. In the last article BP had fitted the cap to the end of the riser sticking out of the top of the BOP, and after some time and testing they found that they could stop the flow of oil from the well. It seems likely that they had originally intended to direct the flow of oil to the vessels on the surface, but of course stopping the flow was an even better result. Then it might have occurred to them that if they could actually stop the flow then they could have another go at the top kill, which those following events in the Gulf of Mexico will remember was last attempted by inserting a pipe into the end of the riser. So using a very high pressure pumping system, the cement unit,  which is routinely fitted to all rigs they pumped in mud and then cement, and succeeded in regaining control of the well.

Reports in the media, now well into the inside pages, tell us that nearly all the oil has dispersed in a variety of ways, to the point that special surveys have been commissioned to find it, and on the coast watches are being maintained in case tar balls come ashore. Today on 30th August the investigation into the disaster has continued. Lists of witnesses have been made available, and the joint investigation website indicates that it may be some time before any conclusions are reached. Earlier this month the testimony from the hearings which took place in July were posted on the internet, and in UK this resulted in a headline in the Guardian "BP rig's alarms were switched off to help workers sleep". This was taken from the testimony of Michael Williams who had the job of maintaining the electronics on the doomed rig. He said that the alarm systems on the rig had been inhibited, and that it had been stated by others on the rig that it was to allow people sleep.

The testimony itself reads like something from an action novel. Williams was in his workshop when he saw his computer monitor explode before his eyes, and at the same time he heard the engines overspeeding, which although no-one seems to have actually said so, indicates that they were being fuelled by gas. Then he heard explosions and in the dark struggled out onto the deck, and to the pilot house. While he and others were unsuccessfully trying to start the standby generator, nearly everyone else evacuated in the lifeboats at the forward end leaving them with few options but to jump over the side. It seems likely that his training in the US military probably saved his life, that and the FRC from the Damon B Bankston, the ship which had been taking on board the mud from the rig when control of the well had been lost. This small craft was so successful that others are now asking why rigs are not fitted with FRCs, and just for once I have an answer. There are two reasons. The first is that one of the lifeboats may be the emergency craft, as long as it can be recovered at the appropriate speed, and the second is that without the right training an FRC deployed from a rig can be a danger to those on board it.

The only other nugget of information in the public domain at the moment is that the Marshall Islands incorrectly classified the Deepwater Horizon as a self-propelled MODU (Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit), which would move by itself between locations before being anchored, while it should have been classified as a Dynamically Positioned MODU, one which both moves by itself and maintains station on location by itself. Without going into details, a higher level of marine qualification is required for the latter for most positions. Apparently the error was made in 2004. One has to ask how the owners of the unit had not realised that the error had occurred.

And I realise that it may be worth providing just a bit more information about DP, dynamically positioned, vessels, again. There are now all sorts of DP vessels in the world from drilling rigs and drill ships to passenger ships and super yachts. The proliferation of this type of craft has been fostered by the global positioning system (GPS), which as we all know is now available an an accessory on your camera never mind a billion dollars worth of oil rig. DP rigs are provided with multiple engines which provide the power for probably eight omni-directional thusters, and the thrusters are interfaced with a computer system which receives signals from the GPS system, and detects if the rig moves away from its assigned position. In that case the thrusters fire up and return it to where it should be. The whole process is monitored by DP Operators whose job it is to watch the computers, and to take over if things go wrong. It is curious, to those of us who are or have been professional mariners, that no actual marine qualification is required for those wishing to be trained as DP Operators.


At 1200 BST on 8th September BP released their report of their investigation into the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, together with an executive summary and 27 appendices. The other main protagonists, Transocean the owners of the rig, and Halliburton the contractor who had carried out the cement job were extremely critical of it, dismissing it as “self serving”. Appendix I of the related documents is the “event tree” process which was used by the BP investigators to drill down for the reasons for the accident, and I started off by having a look through the various items in the tree which were considered and dismissed and considered and retained. Those retained were written up in the report.

 My eye was caught by a box which contained the information that the team on board the rig might have been distracted by preparations for the next well. And of course this raises a question. Why were they preparing for the next well at a time when it seems to those of us looking at the operation in hindsight, all their attention should have been focused on the events in hand? Who then, had given instructions that preparations be made for the next job, when the current one was still demanding everyone’s attention. There was an indication that there would be words contained in the report, and these were as follows:

From 13:28 hours to 17:17 hours, mud was offloaded to the supply vessel M/V Damon Bankston. Some of the mud pits and the trip tank were being cleaned and emptied, causing pit levels to change. These pit level changes complicated the ability to use pit volumes to monitor whether the well was flowing. Pit levels indicate the volume of the fluids at the surface. If the volume pumped into the well equals the volume returned from the well, pit levels remain constant, indicating no flow from the reservoir into the well.

Other simultaneous operations, such as preparing for the next operation (setting a cement plug in the casing) and bleeding off the riser tensioners, were occurring and may have distracted the rig crew and mudloggers from monitoring the well.

Who had given the instruction that the pits be cleaned, at a time when they should, or possibly should, have still been monitoring the mud or seawater returns? And here we go again into the technicalities of drilling holes in the ground in the search for hydrocarbons. Anyone who did not know how dangerous a blowout might be, knows now, and one of the ways of finding out whether the well is under control or not is whether precisely the same amount of liquid which is being pumped down the well is being returned. If less than the precise amount is being returned then some is being lost to the formation, or if more is being returned then the well is flowing. Both situations are dangerous.

However, having got nothing from the BP report on who had given the instructions to prepare for the next well, even though current well was not, so to speak, in the bag, I started to go through the USCG/MMS investigation transcripts, which is no small task. I focused on the evidence of the drilling people because it would be their job to talk to the BP reps and for them to carry out the various instructions they might be given. Although I began to identify the moments on April 20th when BP and Transocean had discussed things and possibly disagreed on what should be done and in what way, my attention was taken by the testimony of Senior Toolpusher Miles Ezell. It stopped me in my tracks and made me realise that now, in the aftermath of the disaster, if we are not careful the only memorial to the eleven men who lost their lives will be endless arguments between lawyers.

It is important that lessons be learnt so that the chances of this happening again are minimised, and in order to focus, just for a few minutes on what happened out there I attach some of the testimony of Mr Ezell. It has not been changed except for paragraphing. He is being questioned by Mr Mathews of the MMS. We take up the story after he had attended the numerous morning meetings.

Mathews. . And what time was that? Right after the 8:30 meeting? 

Ezell. That would have been when I was out on deck it could have been somewhere around 10:15 to 10:45 or something like that. And then of course we had lunch. I talked to Jimmy Harrell, the OIM, pretty extensively. We were going over our 2010 rig goals and making sure that we were updated on that. We had a VIP group that came out from BP and Transocean. We were going to have a general tour of the rig with those individuals and several of the department heads. And we did conduct that tour. We went to several different areas on the rig. One of the last areas that we went to was the rig floor where they were already conducting the negative test. And -- 

Mathews. The first or the second? The first negative test?

Ezell. The first negative test. And the tour group left and left Jimmy Harrell and myself there because they were having a little bit of a problem.

 Mathews. Who?

 Ezell. The drill crew conducting that test.

 Mathews. Okay.

 Ezell. And we observed that they had lost some mud in the riser. And I witnessed Jimmy tell the subsea engineer, the senior subsea engineer, to increase the pressure on the annular. And, when he did increase that pressure, it became static. They, of course, filled the riser up. We monitored and made sure everything was 100 percent and it was, like I say, static. The other toolpusher that was coming on at 5:30, Jason Anderson, had came on at that time. And he and his relief Wyman Wheeler were discussing, you know, the events of the day. Wyman was briefing him on what was going on. And, of course, the BP company men, Bob Kaluza and Don Vidrine were there. And they were doing the same thing. They were relieving and handing over so to speak. I went outside of the rig floor and I talked to the assistant driller, Steve Curtis, for a few minutes. I was going to let them go ahead and have their discussion. You know have their formal handover. And, when they did that, I came back in and after talking to Jason Anderson, the toolpusher, it was my expectation that they was going to stop the job at that point. They was going to have a meeting. That would have been Don Vidrine and it would have been Jason, the subsea engineer, it would have been the mud engineer, Gordon Jones. And they would discuss about, you know, what had gone wrong and what they was going to do on their second negative test. Well, at this time, it had got to where it was a little after 1800 hours. Our meeting was at 1900. Jason told me, he said, "Why don't you go eat?" And I said "Well, I can go eat and come back." And he said "Man, you ain't got to do that. I've got this. Don't worry about it. If I have any problem at all with this test I'll give you a call." And I knew Jason well. I've worked with him for all those 10 years, eight or nine years. And I know y'all know that when you know somebody that well you can even tell by their body language if something's wrong. He was just like a brother. So, I had no doubt that if he had any indication of any problem or had any difficulty at all he would have called me.

 Well, I went ahead and ate. I did attend the meeting with the dignitaries. That lasted till shortly after 9:00 or right around 9:00. From there I went to the galley and got something to drink. And I spoke to someone. I can't even remember who it was in the galley now, but I made my way back down to my office and, when I got to the office, I looked at my watch. Of course everybody has different times pieces, but it was 9:20 by my watch. I called the rig floor and I talked to Jason Anderson. And I said "Well, how did your negative test go?" And he said "It went good." He said "We bled it off. We watched it for 30 minutes and we had no flow." And I said "What about your displacement? How's it going?" He said "It's going fine." He said "It won't be much longer and we ought to have our spacer back." I said "Okay." I said "Do you need any help from me?" And he told me "No, man." Just like he told me before he said "I've got this." He said "Go to bed. I've got it." He was that confident that everything was fine. I said "Okay."  

So, I went to my cabin, which is a short distance, probably five feet, away from the toolpusher's office. I went in there and closed the door and prepared for bed and I think I -- yeah, I called my wife and talked to her for a few minutes. And -- it wasn't long, fifteen or twenty minutes, and I had laid there and I turned my overhead light off in the bunk and I was still watching a little TV. And my room phone rang. Well, I hit my little alarm clock light and, according to that alarm clock, it was ten minutes till 10:00. And the person at the other end of the line there was the assistant driller, Steve Curtis. Steve opened up by saying "We have a situation." He said "The well is blown out." He said "We have mud going to the crown." And I said "Well --" I was just horrified. I said "Do y'all have it shut in?" He said "Jason is shutting it in now." And he said "Randy, we need your help." And I'll never forget that. And I said "Steve, I'll be -- I'll be right there."  

So, it took only minutes for me to put my coveralls on, they were hanging on the hook. I put my socks on. My boots and my hard hat were right across that hall I was telling  you in the toolpusher's office. So, I opened  my door and I remember a couple of people standing in the hallway, but I kind of had  tunnel vision. I looked straight ahead and I don't -- I didn't even remember who those people were. And about the time I -- I made it to the doorway of the toolpusher's office was when a tremendous explosion occurred. It blew me probably twenty feet against a bulkhead, against the wall in that office. And I remember then that the lights went out, power went out. I could hear everything deathly calm. My next recollection was that I had a lot of debris on top of me. I tried two different times to get up, but whatever it was it was a substantial weight. The third time it was something like adrenalin had kicked in and I told my self 'Either you get up or you're going to lay here and die.' So, my right leg was hung on something, I don't know what still. But I pulled it as hard as I could and it came free. I attempted to stand up. That was the wrong thing to do because I immediately stuck my head into smoke. And with the training that we've all had on the rig I knew to stay low. So, I felt -- I dropped back down. I got on my hands and knees and for a few moments I was totally disoriented. I mean I had lost orientation on which way the doorway was. And I remember just sitting there and just trying to think 'Which way is it?' 

Then I felt something and it felt like air. And I said to myself 'Well, that's got to be the hallway. So, that's the direction I need to go. That leads out.' So, I had to crawl very slowly because that end of the living quarters was pretty well demolished. Debris everywhere. But I made it to the doorway and what I thought was air was actually methane and I could actually feel like droplets. It was moist on the side of my face. I continued to -- to crawl down the hallway slowly and I put my hand on a body and it was Wyman Wheeler. I mean I didn't -- I didn't know it at the time because there was no light, I couldn't see. The next thing I recollect is I saw like a beam of light like a flashlight bouncing. And I guess it was because this individual was coming down the hallway and it had all the debris hanging from different places, so the light was going up and down as he ducked and went through different things. He came around the corner there and I saw that to be our electrical supervisor, Stan Carden. Along about that time Jimmy Harrell, the OIM, came out of his room. He had managed to find a pair of coveralls and put those on. He told me he was in the shower when the explosion happened.  And he was gritting his eyes real hard and he said he couldn't hardly see. And he said "I think I've got something in my eyes." And I looked down and he didn't have any shoes either. And I said "Jimmy, I've got Wyman down right here." And he said "Yeah, okay. I got to see if I can find me some shoes."  

So, Stan and I were in the process of trying to remove some of the debris off of Wyman. And at that time or along about that time another flashlight entered and that was Chad Murray.  And as soon as he got to where we could see him we asked him to go to the bow and get a stretcher. So, we continued to remove this debris off of Wyman. I helped him up and I was -- in my mind I was going to try to help walk him out thinking that that might be quicker to walk him out. Well, he made a couple of steps with his arm around my shoulder and he was in pain and he said "Set me down. Set me down." So, we set him back down and he said "Y'all go on. Save yourself." And I said "No, we're not going to leave you. We're not going to leave you in here." And along about that time I heard another voice saying "God help me. Somebody please help me." And I looked to where our maintenance office had been and all I could see was feet, a pair of feet sticking out from underneath a bunch of wreckage and debris. We -- we worked to get that off of this individual. We didn't know exactly who it was, but, when we got the debris off of this person, we saw that it was Buddy Trahan, who was one of the visiting Transocean dignitaries that came out for that trip. Looking at him we saw that the extent of his injuries were greater than that of Wyman's. So, naturally he got the first stretcher. So, we loaded him on the stretcher and it took three of us because we had to remove debris. It was hanging from the ceiling and the walls was jutted out, the floor was jutted up. I mean it was just total chaos in that area of the living quarters. But when we got him loaded on the stretcher Stan and Chad conveyed him all the way out of the front of the rig, the bow of the rig to the lifeboat station.  

I stayed right there with Wyman Wheeler because I told him I wasn't going to leave him and I didn't. And it seemed like an eternity, but it was only a couple of minutes they came back with the second stretcher. We were able to get Wyman on that stretcher and we took him to the bow of the rig. When we got outside of the living quarters the first thing I observed is both of the main lifeboats had already been deployed and they left. I also looked to my left and I saw Captain Kurt and a few of his marine crew starting to deploy a life raft. And we continued down the walkway till we got to that life raft and we set the stretcher down. And after several minutes we had everything deployed and the chief mate, David Young, and myself got in the life raft and we were able to catch the head part of the stretcher and assist getting Wyman into the life raft, which I don't know if any of y'all ever been in a life raft, but it's hard to keep your balance and especially if you've got any type of weight. And I think we actually fell trying to, you know, get him into the life raft. But the main thing is Wyman was there. You know, he didn't get left behind.  

From that point we were lowered down and I believe that was by Captain Kurt, to the best of my recollection. We made it to the water. I remember intense heat. I remember fuel or oil or some type of hydrocarbon burning on the water extremely close to where our life raft was. And the painter was still attached to the rig. Well, we didn't have a whole lot of light. We were looking through the provisions trying to find a knife. I was pulling tension on the painter thinking by chance maybe it might part. When it did part. Okay, unbeknown to me at that exact moment it didn't part. It was cut. The captain of our rig was able to get a knife and cut the painter. And from that point I remember being thrown a rope. I think it was from the fast rescue craft from the DAMON BANKSTON. And from there they were able to tow us to the BANKSTON and safely away from the rig. 

Both Jason Anderson and Steve Curtis died in the disaster. So one of the many lessons to be learnt may be that you have to get the drill crew off the drill floor once there’s nothing more they can do there. There are, after all, other BOP control panels.

I wrote one further report when the President's investigation report was published and this can be found here.

Vic Gibson May 2014





Deepwater Horizon -The President's Report
Deepwater Horizon - The Progess of the Event

The KULLUK Grounding
The Costa Concordia Report
The Costa Concordia Grounding
The Elgin Gas Leak
The Loss of the Normand Rough
The Bourbon Dolphin Accident
The Loss of the Stevns Power
Another Marine Disaster
Something About the P36
The Cormorant Alpha Accident
The Ocean Ranger Disaster
The Loss of the Ocean Express

The Life of the Oil Mariner
Offshore Technology and the Kursk
The Sovereign Explorer and the Black Marlin

Safety Case and SEMS
Practical Safety Case Development
Preventing Fires and Explosions Offshore
The ALARP Demonstration
PFEER, DCR and Verification
PFEER and the Dacon Scoop
Human Error and Heavy Weather Damage
Lifeboats & Offshore Installations
More about PFEER
The Offshore Safety Regime - Fit for the Next Decade
The Safety Case and its Future
Collision Risk Management
Shuttle Tanker Collisions
A Good Prospect of Recovery

The History of the UT 704
The Peterhead Connection
Goodbye Kiss
Uses for New Ships
Supporting Deepwater Drilling
Jack-up Moving - An Overview
Seismic Surveying
Breaking the Ice
Tank Cleaning and the Environment
More about Mud Tank Cleaning
Tank Cleaning in 2004
Glossary of Terms

An Unusual Investigation
Gaia and Oil Pollution
The True Price of Oil
Icebergs and Anchor-Handlers
Atlantic SOS
The Greatest Influence
How It Used to Be
Homemade Pizza
Goodbye Far Turbot
The Ship Manager
Running Aground
A Cook's Tale
Navigating the Channel
The Captain's Letter

The Sealaunch Project
Ghost Ships of Hartlepool
Beam Him Up Scotty
The Bilbao OSV Conference