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Dear Audience Name:
Subject: Solutions to Problems that Led to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.
I have prepared this preliminary report on the problems that caused the Deepwater horizon disaster. In the report, I have summarized the pre-blowout and post-blowout challenges, which led to the massive losses incurred by BP and other companies. In their report, the managerial structure and the ineffective communication mechanism in the organization have been identified and elaborated. Finally, this report has proposed and justified three solutions to the problems.
Thank you for employing me to take a closer look at this challenge in the communication structure of the organization. This study has allowed me to analyze the communication challenges, as well as broadened my knowledge after the research. As a result, I have combined the information available, and the communication methods learned, in order to offer solutions to the identified problems.
This report communicates the problem faced at the Deepwater horizon, in April, 2010. It is based on analysis of the available information on the pre and post-blowout activities at the Macondo oilrig. Analysis conducted on the available reports on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, shows that it could have been prevented. The analysis shows that the immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be attributed to a series of mistakes made by the companies at the site. The companies included the BP, Halliburton and the Transocean. These companies employed a profit-based operation, at the expense of risk assessment and management. In addition, BP has a neglectful culture, which is indicated by the recurring mistakes in technical and managerial operations.
This report deduces that offshore drilling in deep and ultra deep waters harbors various risks. They include the economic, social and environmental. The aftermath of the disaster shows that despite the awareness, the involved personnel were not prepared. Therefore it is fundamental to develop a method of ensuring safety standards are upheld at all times. In addition, it is inevitable to conduct further research and initiate future generation exploration measures, with the aim of detecting and mitigating the disasters. In this report, it is also proposed that there should be an international categorization of the disasters and strategic safety measures set up for each category. This would ensure that in the case of such a disaster, there are adequate mechanisms to curb the resultant loss.
Drilling in deep and ultra deep water was proven economically viable in the mid-19th century. Its approval came after the increased demand for oil and natural gas. In addition, the improved drilling technology offered solutions, which enabled major oil companies to venture into the offshore deposit of crude oil. Having invested in offshore drilling in Alaska and other onshore wells in the US, BP ventured into the offshore drilling, especially in the Gulf of Mexico (Redmond, 2012). The step was taken at a period, when the world was in search for profitable source of oil, which could offer remarkable output of crude oil and natural gas. Offshore wells that had been exploited were largely in shallow waters. However, their daily output was little. For instance, wells in the shallow coast of America produced about 1000 barrels of oil a day. On the other hand, the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico promised more than 10,000 barrels per day. Therefore, it was enticing for BP to venture in deep water drilling in this area. Consequently, they invested about $560 million in the acquisition of the Macondo well in October 2009 (De Soysa, 2012).
After examining 3-D seismic data and geological data about the Gulf of Mexico, the engineers were convinced that the drilling of the Macondo well was a promising venture. As a result, the company set off the drilling plans, which aimed at using the entire Macondo well. The Transocean’s Marianas drillers were used. They drilled the first 9,090 ft. of the well. However, the Hurricane, Ida forced the Marianas to abandon the operations. The result was a three months delay, after which the Deepwater Horizon took over and resumed the drilling operations in February of 2010 (McNutt, 2012).
The costs of operation included a daily payment of $533,495, with the exception of one day every month. This time was allocated and accounted for maintenance. Additionally, BP was paying operational costs, which included the expendables, fuel and the services. The total daily cost of operation was estimated to be about $1 million. In addition, the staff who operated the Deepwater horizon were funded by their employers. At the event of a disaster, there were a 126 people working in the station. However, only seven people were BP employees. This means that the total daily expenditure of the Deepwater horizon was more than $1 million (Skogdalen, 2012).
On Tuesday, April 2010, disaster stroke the Deepwater horizon. The oilrig experienced technical faults, which resulted to blowout. Consequently, the plant caught fire and exploded, burning it down. Among the 126 people onboard, 17 were injured, 11 killed and the rest survived with minor injuries. The disaster led to burning of about 700,000 gallons of oil, which led to release of dark carbon to the atmosphere, where the smoke was about 30 miles long, thus affected navigation in the air. After burning for more than one day, the Deepwater Horizon sank. This event took place on April 22. In this report, the researcher seeks to communicate the problems that led to the disaster. The researcher will then propose solutions as well as a justification to the proposed solutions.
Causes of the disaster.
To date, the Deepwater horizon disaster remained the largest oil spill in history. By the time it was contained, in July 2010, about five million barrels of oil had spilled. The amount was later analyzed by federal science and engineering experts, who concluded that the total spillage was about 53,000-62000 barrels per day. The technical analysis shows that the underlying technical problems included human errors, engineering misjudgments, missed opportunities as well as outright mistakes.
Technical causes of the disaster
Technical causes include the precise flow path of the hydrocarbons during the blowout. The team explained that the hydrocarbons entered the production casing due to a failure of the shoe track cement. However, there was a possibility that they entered the production casing, which took place from the annulus, then passed through the breach, in the production casing at the bottom of the casing. This explanation implies that the seals of the casing failed during the blowout, due to extreme pressure of the hydrocarbons (Camilli, 2012). The high pressures resulted from an obstruction, which was caused by debris. In addition, the high pressure may have occurred after the lifting of the casing hanger, thus dislodging after the seal was set. The high temperature of the hydrocarbons also caused the casing to expand and lengthen. As a result, the fluid managed to dislodge the seals. Thus, the fuels and gases escaped from the unstable foamed cement.
The second aspect is the errors in the initial design. The team of designers used long string production casing, which it increased the difficulty of achieving zonal isolation during cementing. Although this action does not directly lead to a blow out, it increased the risk of the cementing failure. Another error was the inclusion of rupture discs, instead of protective casing. The result was complicated post-blowout containment efforts, which led to huge losses, as well as death of the crew onboard (Drescher, 2014).
Failures in the final cementing job have also been identified as the cause of the blowout. The cement failed to isolate hydrocarbons. Although the risk factors that contributed to cement failure have not been identified, the responsible team did not conduct a pre-construction tests, which would enable them identify the possible failure in their design. Further analysis of pre-blowout and post-blowout tests of the foamed cement slurry design offers additional evidence of design errors. It was identified that the foamed cement at the well were unstable, which could majorly contribute to the failure of the cement.
The support team employed particular abandonment procedure (Smith, 2013). These procedures reduced the number of barriers, which otherwise would be present, in the case of under balance of the well. The result was an increase in the risk of blowouts. In addition, the maintenance team carried various test, such as the negative pressure test, which was conducted on April 20. The tests indicate that the cement could not isolate the hydrocarbons. Despite these findings, the BP and Transocean personnel not only failed to interpret the tests accordingly, but also opted for a consensus that the tests showed proper operations (McNutt, 2012).
The maintenance team also failed to check for warnings on time. On April 20, the Transocean and Sperry-Sun mud loggers did not detect the signs of a kick, which happened even with signs, which were recorded as early as 9.01 pm. This anomaly was not recognized as a kick until hydrocarbons entered the rise. Therefore, if they were keen to recognize the signs, they would have prevented the blowout.
Another expertise mistake was the handling of the post-blow out occurrence. In this case, the crew onboard decided to divert the flow to a mud gas separator, yet its capacity could not handle the high volume and pressure of the hydrocarbons. Instead, they would have diverted the hydrocarbons overboard, which would have mitigated the size and impact of explosions and fires.
Analysis of the blowout preventer (BOP) shows negligence in the maintenance. The team neglected it, and at the time of blowout, it could not contain the high pressure and temperature of the hydrocarbons. If it were properly maintained, it would have prevented excessive flow of the hydrocarbons, to a level that could not lead to a blowout.
The management structure of the companies involved in the process of Deepwater horizon was also to be blamed for the disaster. It is so because the disaster would have been prevented if the existing progressive guidelines and practices were followed. The management of BP did have a workable framework that would ensure that available safest technology was employed. In fact, the history of BP shows that the management had a ‘save time-make money’ culture. The culture compromised the safety measures, in attempts to reduce the operational costs (Aeppli et al., 2013). The risks taken by the management, with the aim of maximizing profits in the future, were economically valid. However, their short-term threats were not considered. The result was a breach of safety standards, which also compromised the safety of the workers. In addition, the management failures were realized when the containing, controlling, mitigating, planning and cleaning up of post-blowout disaster was analyzed (De Soysa, 2012). It is so because the company failed to utilize the multiple opportunities that were present at the time of disaster. In relation to the previous disasters in the US, the companies were supposed to have developed a workable risk assessment and management strategy. It would help them to realize the fallibilities of the Deepwater horizon. Therefore, they had multiple opportunities to take the right action, accordingly and in the right way (Camilli, 2012). The researcher deduces that the management failure in the organization and operation of the Deepwater horizon was to be blamed for the disaster.
In conclusion, the Macondo well blew out because the cement that Halliburton and BP pumped down to the production casing on 19th April failed to seal off. Consequently, it failed to isolate the hydrocarbons in the formation. At the same time, the rig personnel were involved in a replacement exercise. It entailed the drilling mud in the well and riser was replaced with sea water. The result was a remarkable reduction in the fluid pressure. Thus, the well became underbalanced (Drescher, 2014). Under-balance led to flow of hydrocarbons into the annular space around the production casing. Consequently, the hydrocarbons rose into the other parts at high pressures, which further built up resulting to the blow out. Since the maintenance crew never recognized the rise, the hot hydrocarbons and the gas mixed and ignited within 10 minutes of response (Camilli, 2012). This triggered the first explosion. Therefore, it can be deduced that if BP had developed a proper management and communication strategy, the disaster would have been avoided. The researcher proposes a workable communication strategy, which BP should implement. The aim of the implementation is to avoid similar cases to the Deepwater horizon disaster.
Proposed solutions to the problem
The Deepwater horizon disaster portrays the weaknesses in the current drilling technology, management and design procedures. The outcome of the disaster shows high level of unawareness and unpreparedness, in the drilling companies. In this section, the report proposes various steps, which shall not only prepare the team, but also offer a guideline towards the response, in the case a similar disaster in the future. The proposed solutions include high-tech exploration, categorization of the disasters and the restructuring of management hierarchy in the companies.
- Conduct high-tech hazard exploration
The oil and gas industry should embark on an important next generation series of high tech-hazard exploration systems. It should be done in a deep and ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The researchers and engineers at onboard relied on the information collected from small-scale operations, which were mainly conducted in the shallow waters. As a result, they had little information, and they underestimated the magnitude of the disaster. This step is essential because it would have saved the Deepwater horizon. The assessment should not only be done by BP, but also be a regulation to all drilling companies, in order to prevent similar disasters in the future.
- Categorize the disasters into variable magnitudes
The failures identified after the disaster showed that the consequences of the major offshore oil and gas system failures can be categorized into various orders (Aeppli et al., 2013). The deep water horizon case had the greatest magnitude, which could not be predicted using the facts taken from previous disasters. Therefore, it would be prudent to categorize these disasters, where the lowest magnitude would be termed as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). The largest possible magnitude would be greater than the Deepwater horizon (Skogdalen, 2012). In this case, the experts should formulate measures of response. The response would be different for each category. As a result, the proposed solution would go a long way in eradicating cases of unawareness and uncoordinated response, in the case of a similar disaster.
- The restructuring of the management structure at the oilrigs
The response to the disaster by the team onboard shows that they were uncoordinated, where some failed in their job (Camilli, 2012). They include the maintenance, communication and management personnel. Restructuring the management team would facilitate proper communication in the organization. For instance, there were supposed to be a managerial staff, who were responsible for regular maintenance tests and evaluation of the oilrig. Therefore, the structure of management needs to be changed, and individuals responsible for each area be given the mandate to conduct the regular maintenance.
The researcher analyzed the reports on the Deepwater horizon disaster and came up with three solutions. They include the incorporation of high-tech hazard exploration in all offshore wells, especially in the ultra-deep waters. The research shall enable the oil companies such as BP and Transocean, to instill preventive measures. The measures shall entail creation of awareness and the post-blowout response mechanism. Therefore, this proposal is valid and justified.
The second solution suggested is the categorization of offshore well disasters. The range of the expected loss and the magnitude of the disaster should be analyzed and documented. In this case, they should range from the least to the most hazardous occurrence. The categorized information would be shared amongst the drillers, where the safety measures proposed for each category have to be implemented before and during the operation of the oilrigs. This would enhance the technical and managerial personnel in the companies, on the operational and safety standards, which would ensure that similar disasters will never recur.
Finally, restructuring of the management in BP and other oil rigs is proposed. The reason is to ensure that the technical and other staff onboard carryout their roles in time. For instance, the maintenance team was supposed to check and detect a kick, before the rising of hydrocarbons. If this were done, the disaster would have been prevented. Therefore, they should increase the number of staff and allocate specific tasks to each staff member. In addition, there should an oversight team, to whom the staff should report to regularly. By this, the companies would have prevented the disaster.
The suggested solutions include the incorporation of future technology in the exploration and prediction of disasters. In order to implement this suggestion, BP shall buy new equipment, which support satellite connectivity. They shall also buy modern vibration analysis gadgets. The gadget shall be used by the technical team, to investigate the possibility of a kick. It shall regularly be done, so that the cases of a blowout are established early. In addition, they need to employ a team of scientists. Every oilrig shall have specialized personnel to predict the possible blowouts.
The second method shall be the categorizing of the disasters. In this case, BP needs to liaise with the environmental and research bodies, who shall conduct an analysis of the present situation at the Macondo well. The information gathered shall be used to create a three-category data sheet. From the category, the team of specialists shall analyze the conditions at the oilrigs and predict the magnitude of a possible disaster. This step shall help BP management to equip the personnel with the required machinery, as well as redesign the high-risk oilrigs.
Finally, the researcher proposes the restructuring of the management system of the wells. In this case, the executive shall have to appoint a three specialists, who shall be given the roles at the site. They include the safety and human resource manager, the technical team manager and the chief technologist. These people shall have to develop a report schedule, where everyone shall have to give a report at regular intervals. The result shall be a well-coordinated company where cases of incompetency shall be minimized. Therefore, the repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster shall be prevented from two perspectives. They include economic and technical study and improvement.
The Deepwater horizon disaster due to mistakes from various parties. They include the managerial, technical and other experts. Poor maintenance of the oilrig led to errors in pressure balance, which escalated and finally led to a blowout. Even after the blowout, the technical team was not prepared to curb the impending disaster. Therefore, the researcher proposes three solutions to such a problem. They include the incorporation of high-tech hazard exploration in all offshore wells. The second solution is the categorizing of the disasters, from which the maintenance team may select the most appropriate maintenance strategies. Finally, the organization of the company and the personnel onboard an oilrig should be restructured. As a result, everyone will be accountable for a given task. The staff is supposed to give a comprehensive report after a particular period.
In this report, the researcher recommends that the management of BP and other companies involved at the time of the Deepwater horizon disaster, be restructured. It shall involve creation of new dockets in the management, which shall solely deal with safety and risk assessment. The researcher also recommends further research in the high-tech GIS, automation and instrumentation, in order to invent smart oilrigs, which will detect the errors and alert the relevant authorities. Finally, the researcher recommends further research on the design, in order to predict and curb similar disasters.
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Redmond, M. C., & Valentine, D. L. (2012). Natural gas & temperature structured a microbial community response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, 109(50), 20292-20297.
Skogdalen, J. E., & Vinnem, J. E. (2012). Quantitative risk analysis of oil & gas drilling, using Deepwater Horizon as the case study. Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 100, 58-66.
Smith, K. (2013). Environmental hazards: assessing risk and reducing disaster. Routledge.
Camilli, R., Di Iorio, D., Bowen, A., Reddy, C. M., Techet, A. H., Yoerger, D. R., & Fenwick, J. (2012). Acoustic measurement of the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well flow rate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,109(50), 20235-20239.