Schlumberger rumor update

A month ago, I reported a rumor about Schlumberger employees being on the rig to run a Cement Bond Log (CBL) test:

SLB gets out to the Deepwater Horizon to run the CBL, and they find the well still kicking heavily, which it should not be that late in the operation. SLB orders the “company man” (BP’s man on the scene that runs the operation) to dump kill fluid down the well and shut-in the well. The company man refuses. SLB in the very next sentence asks for a helo to take all SLB personel back to shore. The company man says there are no more helo’s scheduled for the rest of the week (translation: you’re here to do a job, now do it). SLB gets on the horn to shore, calls SLB’s corporate HQ, and gets a helo flown out there at SLB’s expense and takes all SLB personel to shore.

6 hours later, the platform explodes.

The story sounded so crazy that I thought it might be true, given BP’s obvious recklessness and Schlumberger’s reputation for professionalism.

Well, there’s at least some truth to the story, according to this U.S. House Subcomittee on Oversight and Investigations letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward:

BP’s mid-April plan review predicted cement failure, stating “Cement simulations indicate it is unlikely to be a successful cement job due to formation breakdown.” Despite this warning and Halliburton’s prediction of severe gas flow problems, BP did not run a 9- to 12-hour procedure called a cement bond log to assess the integrity of the cement seal. BP had a crew from Schlumberger on the rig on the morning of April 20 for the purpose of running a cement bond log, but they departed after BP told them their services were not needed. An independent expert consulted by the Committee called this decision “horribly negligent.”

…On April 18, BP flew a crew from Schlumberger to the rig. As described in a Schlumberger timeline, “BP contracted with Schlumberger to be available to perform a cement bond log … should BP request those services.” But at about 7:00 a.m. on the morning of April 20, BP told the Schlumberger crew that their services would not be required for a cement bond log test. As a result, the Schlumberger crew departed the Deepwater Horizon at approximately 11:15 a.m. on a regularly scheduled BP helicopter flight. The Schlumberger crew was scheduled for departure before pressure testing of the well had been completed, indicating that the results of those tests were not a factor in BP’s decision to send the crew away without conducting a cement bond log….

The Committee staff asked an independent engineer with expertise in the analysis of well failure about BP’s decision not to conduct a cement bond log. The engineer, Gordon Aaker, Jr., P.E., a Failure Analysis Consultant with the firm Engineering Services, LLP, said that it was “unheard of” not to perform a cement bond log on a well using a single casing approach, and he described BP’s decision not to conduct a cement bond log as “horribly negligent.” Another independent expert consulted by the Committee, John Martinez, P.E., told the committee that “cement bond or cement evaluation logs should always be used on the production string.”

So, the Schlumberger team was on board to run the test, the test was not run, and the Schlumberger employees who might have died had they remained that day instead returned to safety before the explosion.

Perhaps the rest of the rumor is fake. But given how much of the rumor has already been corroborated, I suspect the rest holds at least a kernel of truth. Why were Schlumberger employees on board to run a critical test that didn’t get run? And why would BP skip a test that one expert says “should always be used” and another expert says skipping was “unheard of” and “horribly negligent”? As unprofessional as BP’s reckless behavior has been, it seems more likely, from all we’ve heard about the already-known problems on the rig — like chunks of the blowout preventer having been found in the drilling fluid — that the Schlumberger employees were so scared by what they witnessed and heard on that rig that they insisted it be shut down and demanded immediate evacuation when BP refused.

If the rumor is true, it would prove BP to be utterly and recklessly negligent… guilty of manslaughter and of willfully causing the greatest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. BP would have every interest in keeping the story secret. And, given the U.S. government’s strong support of BP’s efforts to “bury the body” by keeping as much oil as possible below the surface — even at the cost of dumping massive quantities of highly toxic Corexit into the critical biodiversity hotspot — and using the Coast Guard to keep reporters from visiting the coast or even flying low over the affected regions of the Gulf, the Obama Administration might (perhaps unwittingly) be helping BP keep a lid on the truth. Even Schlumberger may be keeping silent because BP is a very, very significant customer.

But, whether BP decided to skip the essential test or refused to shut down the well after Schlumberger demanded it be shut, BP’s lethal negligence is beyond doubt. If corporations are entitled to free speech (which they obviously should not), then should they not also be thrown in jail when they kill people and destroy giant ecosystems?

UPDATE: This Times-Picayune report corroborates how critical that test is and adds two new pieces of information: 1) The Schlumberger team seemed to be in a hurry to get off the rig because they left their valuable testing equipment behind; and, 2) BP is refusing to answer questions about the CBL. I also note that none of the reports is contradicting the rumor that Schlumberger confronted BP. The reports simply state that BP sent the Schlumberger team home without requesting the test. They don’t explain how/why that happened.

[Top Halliburton executive Tim] Probert told a Senate committee last week that the cement bond log is “the only test that can really determine the actual effectiveness of the bond between the cement sheets, the formation and the casing itself.”

Gregory McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas, called the cement bond log the “gold standard” of cement tests. It records detailed, 360-degree representations of the well and can show where the cement isn’t adhering fully to the casing and where there may be paths for gas or oil to get into the hole.

Schlumberger’s Harris said the contractor was ready to do any such wireline tests, but was never directed to do so. The team had finished doing tests on the subsea layers of earth being drilled five days earlier and hadn’t done any work since, Harris said.

In fact, Harris said there was no time to get the company’s wireline testing equipment off the rig before it exploded….

BP spokesmen did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the decision to send Schlumberger home without conducting a cement bond log.

Posted by James on Tuesday, June 15, 2010