By Brett Clanton and Tom Fowler
Federal investigators on Friday blasted Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon, for poor maintenance of the doomed drilling rig, inadequate training of workers and safety lapses that may have contributed to the deadly Gulf disaster a year ago.
The company’s “numerous systems deficiencies” and “omissions” ranged from bypassing gas alarms and automatic shutdown systems that could have prevented an explosion to failing to conduct enough emergency drills.
“These deficiencies indicate that Transocean’s failure to have an effective safety management system and instill a culture that emphasizes and ensures safety contributed to this disaster,” a joint Coast Guard-Interior Department panel said in a preliminary investigation report on the Deepwater Horizon accident.
Friday’s report focused narrowly on the explosions and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, worker evacuations, the flooding and sinking of the rig and the safety systems of the rig and Transocean.
Transocean said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees” with the findings, noting the Deepwater Horizon was compliant with U.S. and international standards at the time of the accident. “We look forward to setting the record straight,” the company said.
The report also singled out the Republic of the Marshall Islands for “ineffective” oversight of the Deepwater Horizon — which sailed under the country’s flag — because it delegated rig inspection activities to third parties.
The nation responded that the study was based on “conjecture and speculation, which should have no place in a responsible casualty investigation report.”
The 348-page document, which the panel calls Volume One, will be part of a larger report that the joint panel plans to issue by July.
Volume One, which was by the Coast Guard, does not attempt to explain the root causes of the actual blowout of BP’s Macondo well that set the disaster in motion. That will come in a subsequent report by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
BP said it was still reviewing the report and had no comment.
The interim report arrived two days after the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon accident that killed 11 workers and launched the worst oil spill in U.S. history. And it appeared to shift more blame to Transocean, after BP has taken the brunt of criticism for it.
Indeed, the report is often sharply critical of Transocean. At one point, it says the company’s safety culture could be described as “running it until it breaks,” “only if it’s convenient” and “going through the motions.”
Specifically, it faults the rig owner for such items as poor maintenance of electrical equipment that may have ignited the explosion; not setting up a fire and gas detection system to automatically shut down operating generators when gas was detected in critical areas; and not providing enough training to workers in emergency procedures.
Added up, the problems rendered the Deepwater Horizon “ineffective in preventing this casualty,” the report said.
But it said the Marshall Islands should have kept better tabs on third-party inspection services — Det Norske Veritas and the American Bureau of Shipping — it hired to monitor the safety of offshore rigs. The U.S. Coast Guard also should strengthen oversight of foreign-flagged vessels, the report said.
The joint Coast Guard-Interior investigation was launched days after the Deepwater Horizon blast and was the first to bring many of the dramatic details of the incident to light.
In seven rounds of public hearings in New Orleans, the board interviewed surviving rig workers; shore-based BP engineers who made crucial decisions about the Macondo well; managers and rig-based specialists with Transocean and other contractors; federal offshore rig inspectors; and Coast Guard firefighters who responded to the accident.
The joint board had the power to administer oaths, summon witnesses and require relevant documents and any other evidence to be submitted. In that way, it had access into the disaster that other investigations lacked.
Yet because other investigation reports have come out sooner, they have had an edge in shaping the debate early about the causes of the accident.
In September, BP released an internal investigation report that concluded a “complex and interlinked series” of equipment failures led to the deadly Gulf accident. It acknowledged only limited culpability and singled out mistakes by contractors — in particular, a faulty well cementing job by Halliburton.
In January, the presidential oil spill commission’s report blamed the accident on human error, engineering mistakes and “management failures” by BP, Transocean and Halliburton. It also cited weak government oversight of offshore drilling industry.
Several other investigations continue, including one by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and a criminal probe by the Justice Department.
On Wednesday, BP filed federal lawsuits in New Orleans against Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron — which made the blowout preventer that failed to stop a surge of oil and gas from the well. The suits seek billions of dollars in damages.
Since the earliest days of the accident, BP has said the contractors on the Macondo well should share in the blame for the disaster, but the lawsuits did not come until the actual statutory deadline for making claims.
Read the preliminary report below.