CSB plans Houston meetings as part of Deepwater Horizon probe

Federal investigators are still probing the Deepwater Horizon disaster, two years after it was triggered by the blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Chemical Safety Board said today it is on track to issue a final report on the well blowout and explosion that killed 11 rig workers in early 2013, and it could issue recommendations to prevent a similar disaster as soon as this August.

The independent federal agency, which has probed more than 50 industrial accidents, including the lethal Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 is the last remaining panel still investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster, following the conclusion of several other inquiries.

“While previous investigations of the Macondo blowout have produced useful information and recommendations, important opportunities for change have not been fully addressed,” said CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso in an update on the board’s investigation today. “These are critically important for major accident prevention.”

The agency plans meetings in July in Houston to address how companies and regulators can use leading and lagging indicators to boost safety performance.

The CSB’s broad investigation is examining whether fatigue was a factor in the well blowout, especially since workers on Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had just moved from a 14-day work schedule to one where they worked 21 days in a row.

The “CSB is examining whether this decision was assessed for its impact on safe operations,” said investigator Cheryl MacKenzie.

The agency is poised to go further than other investigations in assessing whether regulation of the offshore drilling industry was too lax and contributed to the disaster. The CSB also is taking a closer look at the blowout preventer that failed to successfully sever drill pipe and seal off the Macondo well hole in April 2010.

A forensic team that examined that device and issued a report on it last year ultimately concluded that the drill pipe was pushed askew by oil and gas surging out of the well — preventing the shearing blades from cutting cleanly through the pipe.

A National Academy of Engineering panel also said that its probe revealed that the oil industry needed to fix serious deficiencies in BOPs.

The CSB is now doing computer modeling of the blowout preventer used at the Macondo well, in a bid to better identify any deficiencies that may have led to its failure or compromised its ability to function properly. That includes a look at the sufficiency of the hydraulic system that powered key components of the device.