On April 30, 2010~ I wrote a blog stating that Halliburton was being investigated due to their cementing process on the oil rig that exploded on April 20, 2010.  Many responses came in asking me why I drew the conclusion regarding Halliburton’s role in the oil spill.  Please read below for my standpoint on the Halliburton Connection, their scapegoat and how it ties into the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.

Many people seem to be confused on how exactly cement could be at fault for this explosion. Perhaps this explanation can shed the light on the process. Cement has two roles in oil exploration:  Sealing the pipe lining of the well from the bedrock around it, and to seal wells on the inside before abandoning them.

After an exploration well is drilled, cement slurry is pumped through a steel pipe or casing and out through a check valve at the bottom of the casing. It then travels up the outside of the pipe, sheathing the part of the pipe surrounded by the oil and gas zone. When the cement hardens, it is supposed to prevent oil or gas from leaking into adjacent zones along the pipe.

Based off of my experience as a Raytheon employee who worked in the Material Lab analyzing and mixing compounds, it is common knowledge that several compounds have to be mixed in a very precise matter for a very precise amount of time; or else the compound will not harden as designed and will not produce the intended results.  If the cement is flawed, it can crack or fail to set properly which would allow oil and gas (in particular methane gas) to leak through.

This gas is highly combustible and prone to ignite causing something as simple as static electricity to ignite the first explosion which then, in return, would set off multiple explosions as the heat combines with the abundance of gas that escaped from the ocean floor. In order to avoid an  explosion like the blowout on the oil rig on April 20, 2010~ a thorough cementing job is necessary to ensure that oil/gas does not enter the drilling pipe.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “a 2007 study by three U.S. Minerals Management Service officials found that cementing was a factor in 18 of 39 well blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico over a 14-year period. That was the single largest factor, ahead of equipment failure and pipe failure.”

It is important to take into consideration that Halliburton was responsible for cementing the rig  and casing string only 20 hours before the explosion.  As well as being responsible for setting up the rig back in 2001. Halliburton had 4 men on the oil rig and finished only 20 hours before the explosion. It was rumored that the exploratory well was ahead of schedule and that possible bonuses would be coming down the pike, if they could stay ahead of the game.  While assumed, I feel it is a safe assumption that people were hurrying- trying to make the pre-deadline so that they could finish ahead of schedule.

Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety and worked for BP PLC as a risk assessment consultant during the 1990s,  indicates this as well. He believes that the workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor.

Bea stated that he believes a chemical reaction caused by setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.

This is indicative to me that a lack of a mud safety barrier also had a part in the explosion (enter Halliburton’s scapegoat).  If the mud safety barrier was removed prematurely before a final cement plug was place in the well, this could weaken the emergency measures to control a powerful blowout caused by pressurized natural gas.

If the final cement plug wasn’t in place yet, and Halliburton stated that the top plug was not installed, removing the mud would be at odds with “good oil-field practice” outlined in 2003 by the federal Minerals Management Service. The MMS report, prepared by WEST Engineering Services, warns against single-point failures — counting on one mode of protection — by saying that “mud weight is the first round of defense against a kick, followed up by the blowout preventer”. Removing the mud left the blowout preventer as the only failsafe.  Unfortunately, that failsafe was not safe from failure.

While Halliburton may point back to the removal of mud, it is important to realize that even if all of the mud had still been present and helped push back against the gas burping up toward the rig, the mud barrier  might not have held it back indefinitely. Methane and other gas are natural to the sea floor, they are expected. That is why the underlying at fault issue MUST circle back to how the gas entered the drilling pipes and how the cement was not set properly. For if it was,  the gas would not have escaped and the explosion would not have happened.

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