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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Deepwater Horizon: Accident Investigation Report

Eight key findings related to the causes of the accident emerged. These findings are briefly described below.

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1 The annulus cement barrier did not isolate the hydrocarbons. The day before the accident, cement had been pumped down the production casing and up into the wellbore annulus to prevent hydrocarbons from entering the wellbore from the reservoir. The annulus cement that was placed across the main hydrocarbon zone was a light, nitrified foam cement slurry. This annulus cement probably experienced nitrogen breakout and migration, allowing hydrocarbons to enter the wellbore annulus. The investigation team concluded that there were weaknesses in cement design and testing, quality assurance and risk assessment.

2 The shoe track barriers did not isolate the hydrocarbons. Having entered the wellbore annulus, hydrocarbons passed down the wellbore and entered the 9 7/8 in. x 7 in. production casing through the shoe track, installed in the bottom of the casing. Flow entered into the casing rather than the casing annulus. For this to happen, both barriers in the shoe track must have failed to prevent hydrocarbon entry into the production casing. The first barrier was the cement in the shoe track, and the second was the float collar, a device at the top of the shoe
track designed to prevent fluid ingress into the casing. The investigation team concluded that hydrocarbon ingress was through the shoe track, rather than through a failure in the production casing itself or up the wellbore annulus and through the casing hanger seal assembly. The investigation team has identified potential failure modes that could explain how the shoe track cement and the float collar allowed hydrocarbon ingress into the production casing.

3 The negative-pressure test was accepted although well integrity had not been established. Prior to temporarily abandoning the well, a negative-pressure test was conducted to verify the integrity of the mechanical barriers (the shoe track, production casing and casing hanger seal assembly). The test involved replacing heavy drilling mud with lighter seawater to place the well in a controlled underbalanced condition. In retrospect, pressure readings and volume bled at the time of the negative-pressure test were indications of flow-path communication with the reservoir, signifying that the integrity of these barriers had not been achieved. The Transocean rig crew and BP well site leaders reached the incorrect view that the test was successful and that well integrity had been established.

4 Influx was not recognized until hydrocarbons were in the riser. With the negative-pressure test having been accepted, the well was returned to an overbalanced condition, preventing further influx into the wellbore. Later, as part of normal operations to temporarily abandon the well, heavy drilling mud was again replaced with seawater, underbalancing the well. Over time, this allowed hydrocarbons to flow up through the production casing and passed the BOP. Indications of influx with an increase in drill pipe pressure are discernable in real-time data from
approximately 40 minutes before the rig crew took action to control the well. The rig crew’s first apparent well control actions occurred after hydrocarbons were rapidly flowing to the surface. The rig crew did not recognize the influx and did not act to control the well until hydrocarbons had passed through the BOP and into the riser.

5 Well control response actions failed to regain control of the well. The first well control actions were to close the BOP and diverter, routing the fluids exiting the riser to the Deepwater Horizon mud gas separator (MGS) system rather than to the overboard diverter line. If fluids had been diverted overboard, rather than to the MGS, there may have been more time to respond, and the consequences of the accident may have been reduced.

6 Diversion to the mud gas separator resulted in gas venting onto the rig. Once diverted to the MGS, hydrocarbons were vented directly onto the rig through the 12 in. goosenecked vent exiting the MGS, and other flow-lines also directed gas onto the rig. This increased the potential for the gas to reach an ignition source. The design of the MGS system allowed diversion of the riser contents to the MGS vessel although the well was in a high flow condition. This overwhelmed the MGS system.

7 The fire and gas system did not prevent hydrocarbon ignition. Hydrocarbons migrated
beyond areas on Deepwater Horizon that were electrically classified to areas where the potential for ignition was higher. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system probably transferred a gas-rich mixture into the engine rooms, causing at least one engine to overspeed, creating a potential source of ignition.

8 The BOP emergency mode did not seal the well. Three methods for operating the BOP in the emergency mode were unsuccessful in sealing the well.

- The explosions and fire very likely disabled the emergency disconnect sequence, the
primary emergency method available to the rig personnel, which was designed to seal the wellbore and disconnect the marine riser from the well.
- The condition of critical components in the yellow and blue control pods on the BOP very likely prevented activation of another emergency method of well control, the automatic mode function (AMF), which was designed to seal the well without rig personnel intervention upon loss of hydraulic pressure, electric power and communications from the rig to the BOP control pods. An examination of the BOP control pods following the accident revealed that there was a fault in a critical solenoid valve in the yellow control pod and that the blue control pod AMF batteries had insufficient charge; these faults likely existed at the time of the accident.
- Remotely operated vehicle intervention to initiate the autoshear function, another
emergency method of operating the BOP, likely resulted in closing the BOP’s blind shear ram (BSR) 33 hours after the explosions, but the BSR failed to seal the well.

Through a review of rig audit findings and maintenance records, the investigation team found indications of potential weaknesses in the testing regime and maintenance management system for the BOP.

The team did not identify any single action or inaction that caused this accident. Rather, a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces came together to allow the initiation and escalation of the accident. Multiple companies, work teams and circumstances were involved over time.

(Source: BP)

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