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Report says that safety device failed in Deepwater Horizon blast

The latest report about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster contains a troubling warning about the future of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Its authors are warning that similar explosions could occur on other offshore oil rigs in the future.

If true, that would be disturbing on several levels, including from the perspective of worker safety. As readers know, 11 workers were killed when the BP well exploded. Nobody wants something like that to happen again.

The report was prepared by the Chemical Safety Board. It found that multiple things went wrong leading up to the blast, which is supported by previous studies. But one aspect of the disaster that the board’s study focuses on is the failure of an important safety device.

The Deepwater Horizon had a blowout preventer, which was supposed to be the last line of defense to prevent an explosion. The blowout preventer included a blind shear ram, which is an emergency hydraulic device intended to seal the well drill pipe.

But instead of sealing the pipe, the shear ram punctured it, perhaps with one of its cutting blades.

Since the 2010 BP oil spill, regulation of offshore operations has tightened up, and the industry says it is more careful than in the past. However, the Chemical Safety Board is concerned that those steps are not enough to stop similar failures in safety devices from happening again.

One thing the board pointed out as an issue was inadequate inspection of the blowout preventer. Both BP and Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon, failed to make regular checks of the device’s systems, the report said.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Offshore drilling at peril, feds say,” Clifford Krauss, June 5, 2014

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