Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Blow Out Preventers found unreliable in 2009 oil company financed study—Report recommended LESS inspection of the devices

A 2009 study of the reliability of blowout preventers (BOPs)—the safety devices that are supposed to stop spills like the BP spill—found they were unreliable.  The study reported in a June 2, 2010 article in the Christian Science Monitor has never been covered by the media before.  The study was funded largely by the oil companies with participation by the U.S. Minerals Management Service.  The study looked at the reliability of blowout preventers on wells in the Gulf of Mexico over a three-year period (2004-2006).  The study found:
  • During safety testing, BOP components and control systems had 62 failures across 238 subsea wells drilled over three years (2004-06) in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Four of the 62 BOP breakdowns were "safety critical failures," i.e., failures that would "prevent the BOP or a component of the system from closing and sealing on demand and allowing an uncontrolled release of fluid from the well bore," the study found. One safety-critical failure was so severe that, if a blowout had occurred at the time of the test, "they would not have been able to contain it."  That amounts to one "safety critical" failure for every 59.5 wells drilled in the test period, and one per 9.5 rigs.

One of the components subject to failure was the blind-shear ram—the last-line-of-defense emergency hydraulic piston that is supposed to slice through the drill pipe and seal the well.  If that fails, as it did on the BP Deep Horizon then….well, you know what happens.

Since the BOPs including the blind-shear ram components were found to be unreliable, the study authors recommended that the testing requirement for the ram be extended from 30 days to 77 days.  You got that right….we have a part that might be subject to catastrophic failure that could cause untold damage, so let us inspect it LESS often.

Additionally, the study recommended that pressure testing of the BOPs be done every 35 days rather than every 14 days.  Why?  Well, the study authors pointed out less frequent testing could save the oil companies nearly $193 million per year that they could apply toward executive bonuses. 

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