April 4, 2011 / 8:25 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. oil-spill panel focuses on blowout preventer

 * Federal panel focuses on failure of key device
 * Technical study based solely on computer models-Cameron
 By Kathy Finn
 METAIRIE, La., April 4 (Reuters) - An off-center drilling pipe in BP’s (BP.L)(BP.N) doomed Macondo well disabled a blowout-preventer and prevented the fail-safe device from operating, a technical expert told a U.S. government panel on Monday.
 A U.S. commission is probing the April 20, 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers, spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and spurred a federal moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling.
 This week’s hearings before a Coast Guard-Interior Department panel convened in a New Orleans suburb focus on the blowout preventer, a 450-ton series of valves and hydraulic rams designed to clamp down automatically on deep-sea wells in a blowout.
 At the hearing, a lawyer for Cameron International CAM.N, which manufactured the blowout preventer that sat on the seafloor over the Macondo well, criticized a recent technical study by Norwegian-based Det Norske Veritas (DNV).
 That technical review, conducted at the behest of the government, found that cutting devices in the preventer known as blind shear rams could not sever the drilling pipe and staunch the flow.
 The mile-deep (1.6 km) well gushed into the Gulf for 87 straight days in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
 At the hearing, Neil Thompson, DNV’s project manager for forensics for the study, said there was “no question” that the drill pipe was off-center within the blowout preventer, leading to its failure.
 Lawyers for Cameron and BP rejected DNV’s findings and said there was no data to support its conclusions.
 David Jones, a lawyer for Cameron, said DNV’s report was based on computer modeling and not studies of the actual blowout preventer salvaged from the seafloor.
 The report “contains a single hypothesis for why the BOP didn’t seal the well,” Jones said. “That hypothesis is based not on testing but on computer models.”
 “Had you ever laid eyes on a BOP before this investigation?” Jones asked.
 Thompson said he had not.
 Jones said the Interior Department would release its own analysis of the blowout preventer in coming weeks.
 Testimony is scheduled to continue through the week in the seventh set of hearings conducted by the panel, with a final report due by July 27.
 This week’s testimony could include officials from BP and Sperry Sun, a Halliburton (HAL.N) unit that monitored drilling mud on the platform. Two officials from Swiss-based rig owner Transocean RIGN.VX are not likely to appear. [ID:nN01101083]  (Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Dale Hudson)   

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