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In a room next to the rig’s galley three employees of Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon, and one of six BP engineers on board, argued about the decision to stop using “mud” — a mix of clay, water and minerals used to control pressure in the Macondo well — and replace it with seawater. The move was meant to be a prelude to capping and plugging the well with a final slug of cement
But it had also created concerns among some workers, who had detected signs of trouble. To those who expressed their misgivings, Mr Brown said, the BP official, simply said: “That’s how it’s gonna be.”
One of the sceptics was Dewey Revette, a 48-year-old driller from Mississippi; he was one of the 11 people to be killed that night. In response to the BP decision, Mr Brown said that he heard Jimmy Harrell, Transocean’s top rig manager, grumble: “Guess that’s what we have those pinchers for” as he left the scene.
Mr Harrell, he believed, was referring to the shear rams, or cutters, positioned on the seabed blow-out preventer (BOP), which were designed to clamp shut over the riser pipe in the event of an uncontrolled blowout of oil and gas.
The failure of this supposedly failsafe valve, manufactured by Cameron International, a US engineering group, was a key factor in the disaster. A few hours later the removal of the mud had critically reduced the downward pressure on the oil and gas inside the reservoir.
BP documents obtained by The New York Times have also suggested that the company had concerns about the well casing and the blowout preventer as long as 11 months ago. They further show that in March BP officials advised US regulators that they were struggling with a loss of “well control” after a series of “kicks” — uncontrolled bursts of gas erupting from it.
While the full picture of who was to blame for the accidentw ill not emerge for months, the dispute described by Mr Brown — a “skirmish”, as he called it — is among the most chilling of a string of incidents that are gradually becoming clearer.
The immediate countdown to the blast, however, began late the night before the tragedy when engineers from Halliburton, the oil service company, finished cementing the well using a special type of cement that was trickier to handle than usual. BP has since raised questions about the quality of the work carried out, an accusation that Halliburton has rejected. Whoever was at fault, it seems clear that the casing of the well was not properly sealed, enabling gas to penetrate and pressure to build up inside.
Transocean’s top rig manager, grumble: “Guess that’s what we have those pinchers for” as he left the scene.