President’s spill commission complains National Oilwell Varco won’t cooperate

Investigators leading a presidential commission’s inquiry into the Deepwater Horizon disaster on Monday complained that National Oilwell Varco is stalling their probe.

The commission’s chief counsel, Fred Bartlit, described the Houston-based oilfield services and equipment provider as “a roadblock in our investigation.”

Bartlit said NOV has been uncooperative and has either refused or delayed investigators’ requests to access the company’s proprietary data-monitoring systems.

NOV rejected that characterization, and said the company was fully supportive of the “commission’s efforts to get to the truth of this terrible tragedy.”

Commission staff are trying to reconstruct the scene on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig leading up to its lethal explosion April 20 — right down to the computerized displays that streamed essential data for workers on board.

Although the displays provided by NOV and the precise dataset that they were showing sank with the Deepwater Horizon rig, investigators hope to reconstruct the displays using data provided by BP.

But in order to recreate the driller’s displays, they need access to NOV’s proprietary software. “For over a month, we have attempted to elicit NOV’s assistance on this matter,” commission staff said. “They have been generally uncooperative, either in the form of refusal or delay.”

An NOV spokesman said the commission’s attempts to recreate what was displayed on the machines using different data from BP “runs a serious risk of producing a misleading picture of what actually happened.”

“We rejected (the commission’s) requests to synthesize hypothetical computer displays utilizing limited mud data provided by the Commission because these would not be accurate or fair,” said spokesman Clay Williams. “It is impossible to say what channels or parameters, time scales or pages the driller had displayed at the time of the accident.”

The issue of key data from the Macondo well — and how that information was translated graphically for drillers — came up during a commission hearing last month. Panel staff wondered whether some displays — which are made to accommodate tremendous volumes of information and often stream information vertically — might better reveal anomalies if the data were presented horizontally.

“It is impossible to recreate the exact screen the driller was watching in the moments leading up to the explosion,” commission staff told the panel in a letter Monday. “But even a basic understanding of what information was available to the driller could significantly advance our investigation.”

The workers who would have been able to answer questions about the display — the driller and the two assistant drillers who were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig — died in the blast.