If you have the time, and it will take some time, be sure to read Monday’s New York Times story: Regulators Failed to Address Risks in Oil Rig Fail-Safe Device . It is a fantastic piece of journalism. Nothing cute, just serious old-fashioned digging for the facts, and this story is loaded with facts about what went wrong with BP’s supposedly fail-safe Blowout Preventer.
Of course, industry insiders knew, as did government officials in the department of Minerals Management Service, that Blowout Preventers have flaws and indeed something as simple as a valve could cause a catastrophic accident. This from the New York Times, about the supposedly ultimate oil blowout stopper, the blind shear ram, which failed at the BP disaster:
As it turns out, records and interviews show, blind shear rams can be surprisingly vulnerable. There are many ways for them to fail, some unavoidable, some exacerbated by the stunning water depths at which oil companies have begun to explore.
But they also can be rendered powerless by the failure of a single part, a point underscored in a confidential report that scrutinized the reliability of the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer. The report, from 2000, concluded that the greatest vulnerability by far on the entire blowout preventer was one of the small shuttle valves leading to the blind shear ram. If this valve jammed or leaked, the report warned, the ram’s blades would not budge.
This sort of “single-point failure” figures prominently in an emerging theory of what went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon’s blind shear ram, according to interviews and documents.
If you want to understand what went wrong at the BP deep-water well, this is a must read –and it’s also a must read if you want to understand the need for news organizations like the New York Times.