BP continues to amaze

Every day, it seems, I learn shocking new facts about BP. Today I learned that just five years ago BP narrowly — and only by dumb luck — avoided a Gulf oil catastrophe on the scale of its current catastrophe:

Thunder Horse, BP’s hulking $1 billion oil platform, was listing precariously to one side, looking for all the world as if it were about to sink.

Towering 15 stories above the water’s surface, Thunder Horse was meant to be the company’s crowning glory, the embodiment of its bold gamble to outpace its competitors in finding and exploiting the vast reserves of oil beneath the waters of the gulf.

Instead, the rig, which was supposed to produce about 20 percent of the gulf’s oil output, became a symbol of BP’s hubris. A valve installed backward had caused the vessel to flood during the hurricane, jeopardizing the project before any oil had even been pumped. Other problems, discovered later, included a welding job so shoddy that it left underwater pipelines brittle and full of cracks.

“It could have been catastrophic,” said Gordon A. Aaker Jr., a senior engineering consultant on the project. “You would have lost a lot of oil a mile down before you would have even known. It could have been a helluva spill — much like the Deepwater Horizon.”

…The near sinking of Thunder Horse in 2005 was caused by a shockingly simple mistake: a check valve had been installed backward, and that caused water to flood into, rather than out of, the rig when it heated up during the hurricane.

After costly repairs to fix that damage, BP discovered a more significant problem: rudimentary mistakes in the welding of pipes in the underwater manifold, which connects dozens of wells and helps carry the oil back to the platform, had caused dangerous cracks and breaks.

Had the well been active, the damaged pipes would have caused a major oil spill. As it was, the company had to remotely rip out, retrieve and fix dozens of complex and heavy pieces of equipment lying on the sea floor, some weighing more than 400 tons.

Altogether, the blunders cost BP and its minority partner, Exxon Mobil, hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and set back production, today at 300,000 barrels of oil and oil equivalents a day, by three years.

Posted by James on Tuesday, July 13, 2010