As the BP gusher continues to spew black gold into the Gulf of Mexico, engineers everywhere cannot help but wonder why the problem is yet to be solved. The most intriguing question thus far has been why BP continues to come up with almost laughable solutions to what has now become the worst environmental disaster in history. Now following the failure of the “Top Kill” maneuver, BP engineers are back to the drawing board for yet another solution.
I find it rather odd that a company, whose sole business is in oil exploration, appears unable to contain a disaster they should have anticipated for. I recognize the complicated nature of regular fluid dynamics, let alone the type involving high pressure underwater pipes; however, I also recognize that BP must have been aware of the imminent dangers posed by the extreme form of oil collection. As engineers, we are constantly taught to create effective technologies, always considering the safety of people and the impact to the environment. Unfortunately, BP has failed terribly in both these endeavors.
The Genesis of the disaster
Every time these kinds of disasters occur, I always worry that corporate greed coupled with willful disregard of reasonable safety practices in favor of quick not-well-thought-out-money-saving solutions might have had something to do with the problem. And again I was right. According to a Congressional investigative report and news accounts, BP officials
overruled contractors to take a faster and cheaper, but far riskier, course in the hours before the explosion. A BP investigator admitted making a “fundamental mistake” by not taking precautions when supervisors on the rig saw that dangerous amounts of high-pressure gas were entering the well, according to a preliminary report from the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. That gas ultimately shot out of the well and blew up. Source: USA Today
CBS’s highly-rated 60 minutes show recently profiled the oil spill in their hour-long program. The show provides an account of events from the perspective of one of the survivors, Mike Williams, who was the Chief Electronics Technician aboard the Deepwater Horizon on the fateful April 20 night.
Several months before Williams was faced with the unfortunate choice of having to jump 300 feet to save his life, Transoceon had celebrated the completion of the deepest oil well in the history of oil wells. However, this well did not posses the gusher qualities required by BP and was therefore abandoned. The crew, with $25 million down the well, embarked on another quest for black gold. This time BP requested that they hasten the pace. According to Williams , this was the beginning of “a series of mishaps” that led to the catastrophe.
On the night of April 20, everything went wrong. A surge of oil and natural gas came up through the well and exploded on the deck of the rig. The blast and fire killed 11 rig workers, and sunk the Deepwater Horizon.
In the weeks that have followed BP has not been able to contain the flow from the underwater pipe. The company has made several attempts to contain the flow, sometimes using seemingly rudimentary techniques.
In a cruel twist of fate, BP now appears to be a situation similar to that of Mark Williams after he jumped off the Deepwater Horizon. Uncertain of what the future holds, you just keep swimming blindly hoping for once that you will make to out of the oily mess, all the while contemplating the likely scenario of the oil igniting, effectively altering the rest of your life.
All the best BP.
Join us again as we discuss:
- possible solutions;
- comical analysis of the approaches used by BP; and
- lessons learned from this disaster.