As the 210,000 gallons of oil gush daily into the Gulf, the executive officials of BP, TransOcean and Halliburton are required to take their attention off the recovery efforts in the Gulf and fly up to Washington DC to focus on accepting blame for their lack of preventive measures.

In a hearing before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce subcommittee yesterday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, stated that his committee’s investigation into the Gulf oil spill reveals that a a key safety device, the blowout preventer, had a leak in a crucial hydraulic system.

“This leak was found in the hydraulic system that provides emergency power to the shear rams, which are the devices that are supposed to cut the drill pipe and seal the well”, indicated Rep. Bart Stupak, D- Michigian.

“Supposed to” is the operative phrase.

Luckily, for investigators, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig keeps a daily activity log.  Even though this log was not fully recorded as it stops at 3:00pm, hours before the blast- there were pressure tests that were implemented, failed and retested.

According to the Rep. Waxman’s analysis of the daily activity log , Halliburton completed cementing the well at 12:35 a.m. on April 20 and after giving the cement time to set, a negative pressure test was conducted around 5:00 p.m.

During a negative pressure test, the fluid pressure inside the well is reduced and the well is observed to see whether any gas leaks into the well through the cement or casing.

According to James Dupree, the BP Senior Vice President for the Gulf of Mexico, the well did not pass this test. Mr. Dupree told Committee staff on Monday that the test result was “not satisfactory” and “inconclusive.” Significant pressure discrepancies were recorded.

As a result, another negative pressure test was conducted.  “During this test, 1,400 psi was observed on the drill pipe while 0 psi was observed on the kill and the choke lines.”

According to Mr. Dupree, this is also an unsatisfactory test result. The kill and choke lines run from the drill rig 5,000 feet to the blowout preventer at the sea floor. The drill pipe runs from the drill rig through the blowout preventer deep into the well.

In the test, the pressures measured at any point from the drill rig to the blowout preventer should be the same in all three lines. But what the test showed was that pressures in the drill pipe were significantly higher. Mr. Dupree explained that the results could signal that an influx of gas was causing pressure to mount inside the wellbore.

At this point in the investigation, comments started conflicting. Mr. Dupree told the Committee staff that he believed the well blew moments after the second pressure test. However, according to the BP counsel, additional pressure tests were taken and at 8:00pm, company officials determined that the additional results justified ending the test and proceeding with the well operations.

How ironic that these additional pressure tests were not recorded in the daily activity log.  Without proper documentation, it is safe to conclude that the only place where the third pressure test happened was that in the imagination of the BP counsel and that operations continued despite the obvious indications of a pressure build up.

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