Confidential internal documents from Transocean reveal that on December 23, 2009 there was a blowout on one of their drilling rigs in the North Sea at 5:10 pm that was eerily similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Drilling mud was being replaced by seawater when the blowout occurred. Fortunately, in that incident, the Blowout Preventer (BOP) worked when it was activated, the rig was spared and the crew was safely evacuated.
The incident occurred at the Sedco 711 location in the North Sea. At that well, Transocean made a decision to displace the mud with seawater and had a blowout. This was the same thing that happened on the Deepwater Horizon prior to the explosion that destroyed it along with 11 lives
A full investigation into the incident was conducted by Transocean following the mishap along with a report detailing all the necessary recommendations to prevent such incidents from recurring. Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon never received the report.
But that is not the only similarity with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These drilling rigs are equipped with a general alarm designed to go off and signal an evacuation if two or more sensors are triggered within a zone. On the Deepwater Horizon, the general alarm had been intentionally “inhibited”, in essence, it was disabled for well over 8 months prior to the April 20th event. In the North Sea incident, alarms were also being continually activated until they were disabled as well.
The main point that was addressed in the North Sea incident was lack of well control at the time of well completion when the drilling mud was being displaced with sea water. This situation was exactly the same on the Deepwater Horizon. Early in the day on April 20th a controversial decision was made by BP and agreed upon by Transocean to displace the drilling mud with salt water. This decision directly lead to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
So what went wrong with management? The North Sea incident occurred about 4 months prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Transocean’s internal report on the incident was dated April 14, 2010 – 6 days prior to the disaster on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico at the Macondo well.
Had the report and subsequent recommendations from the North Sea incident been disseminated to the drilling management for the Gulf of Mexico operations, then it is likely that the Deepwater Horizon disaster would have been completely avoided.
Transocean is the world’s largest offshore drilling company with three main divisions – North Sea, Asia and North America. It is management’s responsibility to coordinate the various activities under one’s charge. There is no excuse for poor coordination at management level especially when it comes to safety.
Transocean discovered vital information from the North Sea incident that would have prevented a disaster and saved lives. How could the largest oil drilling company in the world be so lax on such critical safety issues as to repeat the same mistakes just four months later? It was their duty to demand that this information be known and proper procedures followed throughout all their locations.
Further, they were lucky in the North Sea incident that the Blowout Preventer worked and prevented a similar disaster. Relying on the Blowout Preventer to do its job should be a last resort measure only as an emergency. The engineering requirements, in the oil field industry, require that there at least be two “barriers”, e.g., mud and cement, mud and annular, etc. Transocean operates as if the BOP is a barrier when, in fact, it is an emergency device.
Transocean was very aware of loss to its reputation after the North Sea incident. The report stated that the incident resulted in 11.1 days of lost time at a cost of approx £5.2M (approx $8.1M) and “significant loss of reputation to Transocean”.
The April 14th report was limited to the North Sea Division, as opposed to distributing the information to all three major Divisions. These are fundamental problems that should have applied to all drilling locations. The fact that their report predates the Deepwater Horizon disaster, coupled with the fact that it was intentionally limited in its distribution, reveals a corporate lack of continuity in its safety policies and programs.
Had they decided to correct the problems company-wide rather than trying to treat the one incident in the North Sea as an isolated incident, then it is likely that the Deepwater Horizon disaster would have never occurred.
Although the North Sea Division is a separate division, it is the responsibility of upper management to coordinate all areas under their charge. This failure to do so, resulted in death, injury, and destruction of four state’s eco-systems.