BP e-mails show internal strife in weeks leading up to explosion

Internal strife ran rampant among BP’s Macondo well team in the month leading up to the deadly Deepwater Horizon accident, according to internal e-mails. One supervisor berated a lower-level manager for his attitude, and that manager later warned that last minute-changes meant rig personnel had “finally come to their wits end.”

The e-mails, which were shown to the Houston Chronicle, are expected to be entered into evidence at the hearing of the joint U.S. Coast Guard/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigation of the Macondo blowout and subsequent oil spill. The investigation resumes near New Orleans this week.

In a March 14, 2010 e-mail, David Sims, a drilling team leader for BP, responded to an accusation by well team leader John Guide that Sims was not listening during a conference call.

Sims, Guide’s superior, shot back that he was listening, outlined the many reasons why he made a particular decision, and then proceeded to berate Guide for his management style:

You seem to love being the victim. Everything is someone else’s fault. You criticize nearly everything we do on the rig but don’t seem to realize that you are responsible for every(thing) we do on the rig.

You seem to think that running is more important that well control. Left to go run in the middle of trying to pull the stuck logging tool free.

You will not call the rig in the ops room. you have to sneak out of the room and call them on your cell phone or go back to your office while everyone is in the ops room.

You can’t sit in a meeting and listen to others’ opinions without arguing …. You think when somebody has an opinion that they are demanding action. You complain that a bunch of young engineers are throwing out all kinds of wild ideas and that it is driving you crazy. You don’t listen. You key on a random word or phrase and then you fixate on that and don’t hear anything else. You are always defensive and the victim. You seem to not want to make a decision so that you can criticize it later.

I will hand this well over to you in the morning and then you will be able to do whatever you want. I would strongly suggest, for everyone’s sake, that you make logical decisions, based on facts, after weighing all the opinions.

Later, an April 8, 2010 e-mail to a group of BP engineers from John Sprague, a BP drilling engineer manager who oversaw all of the company’s Gulf of Mexico operations, discussed an organizational shift planned for later that month.

Sprague noted his displeasure with an aspect of the change, but conceded one of the likely reasons behind it: “Granted our Engineering teams are inexperienced.”

On April 17, 2010, three days before the blast, Guide wrote to Sims about the interactions between his operations team that worked directly with the drilling and the engineering team that planned the work ahead of time.

David, over the past four days there has been so many last minute changes to the operation that the WSL [Well Site Leaders] have finally come to their wits end. The quote is “flying by the seat of our pants.”

More over, we have made a special boat or helicopter run everyday. Everybody want to do the right thing, but, this huge level of paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos.

[snip]

The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner.

Sims sympathized with Guide in his response later that day:

For now, and until this well is over, we have to try to remain positive and remember what you said below – everybody wants to do the right thing.

The WSLs will take their cue from you. If you tell them to hang in there and we appreciate them working through this with us (12 hours a day for 14 days) – they will. It should be obvious to all that we could not plan ahead for the well conditions we’re seeing, so we have to accept some level of last minute changes.

Sims flew out to the rig the day of the blast but escaped.

Some of the e-mails were discussed previously in a report by Fred Bartlit, chief counsel for the presidential spill commission. In Chapter 5 of that report, Bartlitt wrote “… it is clear that the way BP handled authority and accountability created confusion during the Macondo project.”

Sims isn’t scheduled to appear at the Coast Guard/BOEMRE hearings, but he is expected to give a deposition in New Orleans this week in the massive collection of civil lawsuits that have been consolidated there.

29 Comments

  1. Slim Chance

    “Granted our Engineering teams are inexperienced.” Say no more. Say no more. Nudge, nudge. And now we are ready to resume drilling in the GOM?

    #1
  2. Jim

    I’m sure it was Sims and his lawyer who made the emails ‘available’ to the Chronicle. CYA.

    #2
  3. After being in the oil industry this is par for the course. Upper management expects certain things and pushes until they get what they want even it it means the loss of safety yet refusing to be responsible for what happens. It is all about the money.

    #3
  4. rat618

    And without a government investigation this would all be swept under the rug.

    #4
  5. gson

    The Chronicle just loves “fueling” the fire!!! Gotta make it “headline” news….

    #5
  6. Ken

    These kinds of things happen on almost every exploration well. Quit making a big deal about all the issues proceeding the disaster. The one and only one massive failure was the misinterpretation of the negative test.

    #6
  7. Hotpuppy

    I believe the reservation in prison for Sims has been sent in. High or Low floor? Window ? Sunny or shaded recreation cage? Big or small “companion”?

    #7
  8. phantom

    “Inexperienced engineers” … really why? Had they let all the experience go because they were too expensive?

    #8
  9. Muttley

    Oh please . . . in EVERY industry it’s about the Money, Ford produced a Pinto that would explode when hit from behind, GM had the infamous Corvair, and its 70′s era trucks exploded when hit from the side, drug manufacturers didn’t protect their packaging until a lunatic took advantage of it, Airplanes of all makes fail catastrophically, etc, etc, etc. I could rattle of examples from every industry, from every era, and the worst (by far) culprit of putting people in harms way for selfish motives “Government”! So painting the “Big Bad” Oil Companies as greedy and self-serving is a bit disingenuous, that is by its very nature, an apt description for most of the human race.

    How about we take the facts and findings from this disaster and use them to apply a heightened level of safety and risk assessment to drilling operations? Why don’t we pour our efforts and energies into redesigning Blow-Out Preventers and upgrade/redesigning MODU’s & Drill Packages to keep a tragedy of this magnitude from occurring again? Because, (quite honestly), I’m of the opinion that you’re rarely, if ever, going to get Middle Management to act rationally.

    #9
  10. Muttley

    Phamtom . . . your closer to the truth than you know

    We have to get the Harvard (Ivy League) Business Model out of safety critical industries, it’s not okay to slash the experienced workers just because they are a “carrying cost”.

    #10
  11. john

    To: gson

    Why in the hell should the Chronicle not publish these emails between two bickering engineers with BP. This spill had ramifications beyond the human imagination. All internal info from within BP as well as others should be headlined. As far as Guide and Sims go they should both be canned.

    #11
  12. konki

    Both Guide and Sims should both be canned. And to GSON: Why in the hell should this not be headlined by the Chron?

    #12
  13. Spendmoney

    Where is the part of the email that accuses each other of doing a shoddy job? The damaging accusations about how bad you do your job so that later after the well is finished management can sit down on a meeting and say, “your performance during the drilling of the well was below par…the project was way over budget yadda..yaddd. You need to clear up your desk. Looks like the juicy emails are missing. At any rate…..looks like we have a deadheat for winners of the “blame someone” game. Idiots.

    #13
  14. CGAux 26

    Sounds just like the BP culture. Fighting from “Good Morning” to “Good Night.” I worked briefly as an engineering contractor for them at Texas City, and every meeting was like the discussions between the drilling management.

    #14
  15. Adler

    The amount of personal bickering in these internal company e-mails is astonishing. But, still no smoking gun.

    #15
  16. eiioi

    Muttley and Phantom, where did you come from? Did you get your knowledge about the O&G industry from the movie Gasland?
    1. The “Great Shift Change” is upon us. This is the nickname for the numerous baby boomers beginning to retire. Boomers are already a large part of the population, and when consider that the O&G industry didn’t hire many people at all – young, old, cheap, expensive, experienced or green – in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s, you should understand why there are so many young Petroleum Engineers. ALL O&G companies in the U.S. struggle with this, and there is a significant scarcity of people aged 35 to 50 in the industry.
    2. You shouldn’t always believe someone when they say “inexperience” was the issue. And often experience working in an unsafe way or with a poor attitude towards safety for the last 20 years is worse than a guy with 1 year of experience who is dedicated to safety, educated, and eager to learn more. And “inexperienced” can become an epithet for younger people like “senile” would be for an older person – untrue, and not very informative.
    3. I’m sure the guys out there were making six figures, even the young ones. O&G salaries are pretty good, in case you didn’t know. Again, see point #1.

    #16
  17. lawaggie

    Back on my day, they would only let “experienced engineers” offshore only after having sat onshore for a while.

    #17
  18. Ohh Myyy! It’s all going to get fuglier!

    #18
  19. Trail Trash

    It would be interesting to read some of the e-mails floating around inside the BOEMRE.

    #19
  20. konki

    To: Gson Whey shouldnt the Chron publish these findings? It has implications of all of us. As to Guide and Sims, they should both be fiored

    #20
  21. Indianpaintbrush

    gee , and men sneer at women for being catty….. If I didn’t know better, I would say that Sims and Guide seem to be suffering from pms.

    #21
  22. This well for days was talking to BP and BP wasn’t listening and they misinterpeted the neg. test that was all she wrote.

    #22
  23. 3D02

    And where are the experienced Engineers? Could they have possibly retired? Could those Engineers have possibly extricated themselves from the industry that is up and down like a rollercoaster? And bickering among employees on a rig? Wow, big surprise.

    #23
  24. Trail Trash

    Let me clue people in on something. Drilling engineers and field people talk to each other differently than the folks back in corporate. I remember one project I was working on with a drilling engineer and all the rest were managers and G&G people. The engineer and I were going at it toe-to-toe in our ususal forceful way via e-mail. No big deal to us. Next thing we know a team meeting is called in regards to “Team Communication”. Got in the meeting room and a manager starting expressing his concern over the hostile nature of our e-mails. He and I just started laughing. “We’re old rig hands. That’s just the way we talk to each other.”

    #24
  25. bad management

    Any manager that goes on like this guy did in an e-mail is incompetent. That kind of communication should be reserved for face-to-face man-to-man.

    #25
  26. former BP contractor

    I used to be a contract Well Site Leader for BP in South Texas while this was all going down. People would not believe some of the things that go on during completion operations. They have people that have experience levels of 0-1 years making decisions that they have no business making. The motto is “what does engineering want to do?” Well, I made a decision to say something to the inexperienced person about how unsafe the whole thing was. I was terminated 3 days later after my replacement arrived. BP expects you to “toe the line”. If you do not, you’re gone. So I would “assume”(which we all know what that does) that someone here was ultimately forced to “toe the line”, or lose their job. If they were lucky they are dead now. If they aren’t dead now, then they have to live with this on their concience which is punishment worse than death. Be ready for more surprising details to surface. Ask for a copy of DWOP if you’d really like some fun reading.

    #26
  27. Energy Moron

    Howdy Neighbor:

    Lord Browne has spent his time in retirement lamenting the lack of engineers, even before the DWH

    http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/2003/01/13/daily51.html

    He need only look in the mirror

    #27
  28. Tex

    former BP contractor,
    Is it possible you were let go because you were not qualified for the job? You are in charge of well operations as a well-site leader. That’s just how it is.

    #28
  29. Jess

    Similar Management fiasco which lead to the Challenger NASA disaster. Senior Management driving for results, not listening to production personal. Focused only on results, never taking a step back, to pause, and listen.

    #29