Deepwater Horizon

Esquire has a fascinating piece on the 11 men who lost their lives on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and the circumstances leading up to the catastrophe. If you have time, you should read it. This is especially true if you live in Kentucky, and you’re planning to vote for Rand Paul, who has stated on several occasions that companies such as BP, Transocean and Massey Energy are over-regulated when it comes to worker safety. Paul, like you’d expect of your typical Ayn Rand acolyte, believes that market forces would soon eliminate companies that didn’t protect their workers. “If you don’t (make good rules to protect your people),” says Paul, “I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.” It’s obvious bullshit, as evidenced by the fact that BP, Transocean and Massey are all still in business, but I guess it sounds good to some folks who feel as though government intervention, and not corporate greed, is what’s keeping them down… At any rate, here’s a clip from the article:

…It’s an unnatural thing, the Deepwater Horizon. It is, indeed, the very embodiment of the needs it’s supposed to serve, a monster continually bestirred. It is a boat, a ship, that floats on top of an ocean drilling an oil well a mile below the surface, and it does not move, despite currents and waves and weather. It does not move, very simply, by always moving: by never stopping. It has eight engines called thrusters, two to a corner, that interact through computers with global-positioning satellites, and they can never stop firing, adjusting, thrusting. As a result, the monster has its own needs, too. To drill for oil, it needs frequent and massive deliveries of diesel fuel, a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand gallons at a time. It needs supply ships to continually circle it and make deliveries not only of fuel and drilling mud but also of food and especially water, because in order to keep the crews in clean coveralls and clean sheets it has four enormous washing machines that wash clothes twenty-four hours a day. And mostly, it needs to justify its own expense — BP pays Transocean a half million dollars a day for the privilege of leasing it — and so the need it serves by never stopping is the need never to stop: to keep working. It is never dark, and it is never silent. Its lights are always burning, and though often compared to a city unto itself, it is more like a casino in the middle of the ocean.

It comes as no surprise, then, that there is pressure to produce — to strike oil. The Deepwater Horizon is the second Transocean rig to drill the well known to the Minerals Management Service as Mississippi Canyon block 252, to BP as Macondo, and to the drilling team as the Well from Hell. The first rig, the Marianas, tried drilling it in the fall of 2009, until it was damaged in a hurricane and had to be repaired. The Deepwater Horizon resumed drilling in February and promptly had to “cut pipe” in March, when the drill bit got stuck and a few thousand feet of drill pipe had to be left in the hole, and the well was attacked from a different direction. The Well from Hell is as gassy as a colicky baby. Men get used to feeling “kickbacks” — the burps of methane gas that are sometimes strong enough to force the drill pipe back up the well — and to seeing the warning lights on deck that prohibit chipping and other deck work that might cause sparks and also lighting a damned cigarette. The Well from Hell has cost BP weeks of added rig time and is at least $20 million over budget. By April 20, however, drilling has been completed. All that is required is for the well to be plugged with cement and for seawater to displace the drilling mud that BP is paying M-I Swaco millions of dollars for. It is not an uncomplicated process, but once it is done, the Deepwater Horizon can move on to new holes, and a production rig can begin tapping the vast and strangely vehement reservoir of oil and gas secreted two and a half miles beneath Macondo’s wellhead.

No, it is no surprise that BP pushes for the completion of the well, nor that the push comes from one of the BP managers assigned to the rig — one of its so-called company men. It is the company man’s job to push. It is not his job to be part of the so-called Transocean family of crew members. The company man eats in the same galley as the crew members but not at the same tables. The company man does not have the same quarters as the crew members, and he does not wear the same clothes. The crew members wear Transocean-issued magenta coveralls when they’re on tour, blue coveralls when they’re off. The company man wears, in the words of one Deepwater Horizon survivor, “jeans, a BP shirt, and a nice shiny white hard hat.” There is no surprise when a company man proposes changes in certain procedures and objectives because the company man is, in another survivor’s words, “always trying to change things.” There is not even any surprise when, at a preshift meeting on April 20, the company man challenges the authority of Transocean’s OIM. What does surprise the crew members of Deepwater Horizon, however, is how the OIM responds.

The OIM’s name is Jimmy Wayne Harrell. The company man’s name is Robert Kaluza. The meeting is the standard “pre-tour” meeting held twice a day, at 11:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M., before the start of each twelve-hour shift at noon and midnight. At most pre-tours, the lines of authority are clear, if contested: The BP company man tells the OIM and the driller what he wants accomplished, and the driller tells the various crews how they’re going to accomplish it. At the 11:00 A.M. meeting on April 20, however, Robert Kaluza tells the drilling team how they’re going to displace the mud from the well and replace it with seawater. When he proposes a procedure that runs counter to the procedures the drilling team has in place, Dewey Revette, the driller, fresh from his circuit around the deck, begins to argue with him. Revette thinks that what Kaluza is proposing is reckless and premature, and when the argument grows heated, what the various crew members witnessing it remember is the passion and anger of an inherently careful man. “Dewey got pretty hot,” one says. Finally, the company man invokes his own sense of authority and says, “Well, that’s how it’s going to be.” And now it is up to Jimmy Wayne Harrell. BP leases the rig, but Transocean owns it and employs the workers gathered at the pre-tour meeting. They have always understood the Transocean OIM to be the ultimate authority on the rig, the one man who has the power to override the interests of the company man in favor of the interests of the Transocean workers and their safety. And what Jimmy Wayne Harrell says, in response to Robert Kaluza’s dictum, is, according to sworn testimony offered in the Coast Guard investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster: “Well, I guess that’s what we have those pinchers for.”

Those pinchers: the blowout preventer.

Those pinchers: the massive mechanical shears that are supposed to cut the pipe and seal the well in the event of catastrophe…

But, as we know now, the blowout preventer didn’t work. Furthermore, there’s evidence that BP knew that it wouldn’t.

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  1. Star T
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Rand Paul needs to work in a mine for a day.

  2. Edward
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    If he really wants to experience the beauty of Randian market forces, he’d demand that police immediately stop protecting Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy.

  3. Meta
    Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Breaking News Alert: Coast Guard: Offshore oil rig in Gulf of Mexico explodes September 2, 2010 11:47:29 AM

    An offshore oil rig has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, west of the site of the April blast that caused the massive oil spill, the Associated Press reports.

    Thirteen people were on the rig and have been accounted for. One person was injured, according to a U.S. Coast Guard spokeman.

  4. Posted September 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Us and the Russians have been sending spies over to each others countries to sabotage each others’ ability to utilize natural resources. A mine “accident” here, an oil rig explosion there… James Bond stuff.

  5. Meta
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    It looks like Haliburton and the oil companies involved may have known that the cement they were using was no good, and could lead to a catastrophic event.

    In recent years, the giant energy services company has found itself under scrutiny over allegations that it performed shoddy, overpriced work for the United States military in Iraq, bribed Nigerian officials to win energy contracts and did brisk business with Iran at time when it faced sanctions.

    On Thursday, a government investigation panel said that Halliburton might have played an important role in the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico by supplying cement that the company knew was unstable to BP, which used it to seal the well. Halliburton has repeatedly blamed BP, the owner of the well, of failing to test the cement and making other errors that led to the accident, which killed 11 people and spewed millions of barrels of crude oil into the gulf.

    “Halliburton has a history of walking on the energy high beam without a net,” said Chris Ruppel, managing director of capital markets at Execution Noble, an international investment bank. “Because they have been very aggressive, working on very high-profile types of projects, when anything goes wrong, they will be front and center.”

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