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Oil Rig’s Siren Was Kept Silent, Technician Says
By ROBBIE BROWN Published: July 23, 2010

KENNER, La. — The emergency alarm on the Deepwater Horizon was not fully activated the day the oil rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 people and setting off the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a rig worker on Friday told a government panel investigating the accident.

The worker, Mike Williams, the rig’s chief electronics technician, said the general safety alarm was habitually set to “inhibited” to avoid waking up the crew with late-night sirens and emergency lights.
“They did not want people woke up at 3 a.m. from false alarms,” Mr. Williams told the federal panel of investigators. Consequently, the alarm did not sound during the emergency, leaving workers to relay information through the loudspeaker system.
While it is not known whether it would have saved the workers who died in the April 20 disaster, the lack of a fully functioning alarm hampered the effort to safely evacuate the rig, Mr. Williams said.
In a statement, Transocean, which leased the rig to BP, said workers were allowed to set the alarm to prevent it “from sounding unnecessarily when one of the hundreds of local alarms activates for what could be a minor issue or a non-emergency.”
“It was not a safety oversight or done as a matter of convenience,” the company said. Transocean also pointed to a separate audit of the rig in early April, in which inspectors testing the fire detection system found no detectors inhibited.
A six-member panel is investigating the disaster that unleashed the largest oil spill in United States history. At hearings this week here, crew members have described repeated failures in the weeks before the disaster, including power losses, computer crashes and leaking emergency equipment.
The rig’s history of mechanical errors was documented in a confidential audit conducted by BP seven months before the explosion and reviewed by The New York Times. According to the September 2009 document, four BP officials discovered that Transocean, the rig’s owner, had left 390 repairs undone, including many that were “high priority,” and would require a total of more than 3,500 hours of labor. It is unclear how many of the problems remained by the day of the catastrophe.
The 60-page audit found that previously reported errors had been ignored by Transocean. “Consequently, a number of the recommendations that Transocean had indicated as closed out had either deteriorated again or not been suitably addressed in the first place,” investigators wrote.
In a statement, BP said it had expected Transocean to take the audit seriously. “The goal is to have the contractor address all safety critical items in a prompt manner,” the statement said. “As we have previously said, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy had multiple potential causes, including equipment failure.”
During Friday’s hearing, witnesses addressed the role that shortcuts and mistakes played in compounding the rig’s troubles.
An engineering expert told investigators that the crew members had incorrectly performed a critical test of emergency equipment and did not detect a dangerous “kick” of gas roughly an hour before the explosion.
John R. Smith, a petroleum engineering professor at Louisiana State University, told investigators that rig data showed crew members had failed to correctly test the pressure in the well.
“The reality is it’s not a test at all, in my opinion,” Mr. Smith testified, after reviewing records of the crew’s actions. For months, survivors and Transocean officials have maintained that the well pressure test had been properly conducted.
Mr. Williams, who filed a lawsuit against Transocean in federal court in New Orleans on April 29, added several new details about the equipment on the rig, testifying that another Transocean official had turned a critical system for removing dangerous gas from the drilling shack to “bypass mode.”
When Mr. Williams questioned that decision, he said he was reprimanded.
“No, the damn thing’s been in bypass for five years,” he recalled being told by Mark Hay, the subsea supervisor. “Why’d you even mess with it?”
Mr. Williams recalled that Mr. Hay added, “The entire fleet runs them in ‘bypass.’ ”


Oil spill cleanup aid from overseas comes with a price tag.

The State Department confirmed that nearly every offer of equipment or expertise
from a foreign government since the April 20 oil rig explosion would require the
U.S. to reimburse that country.The State Department confirmed that nearly every offer of equipment or expertise from a foreign government since the April 20 oil rig explosion would require the U.S. to reimburse that country.

The State Department confirmed that nearly every offer of equipment or expertise
from a foreign government since the April 20 oil rig explosion would require the
U.S. to reimburse that country.
The offers reveal a hard truth about the United States' international friendships: With the U.S. widely regarded as the world's wealthiest nation, there is a double standard regarding foreign aid after a crisis, especially with offers from relatively poor countries.
U.S. disaster aid is almost always free of charge; other nations expect the U.S. to pay for help.
"These offers are not typically offers of aid," said Lt. Erik Halvorson, a Coast Guard spokesman. "Normally, they are offers to sell resources to BP or the U.S. government."
Only Mexico, with wide swaths of poverty among its population, offered the U.S. anything for free. It said it would give the U.S. government some containment boom. BP separately purchased 13,780 feet of boom and two skimmers from Mexico in early May, according to the State Department.
"We're not disappointed," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday. "We're quite pleased with the international offers of assistance. What we're concerned with right now is getting these types of assistance as they become available, as they are useful to our cleanup operations, getting them into action so they can clean up the Gulf."

The offers include:
Britain, America's closest ally and headquarters to London-based BP, said it would sell chemical dispersants and containment boom for use cleaning up the spill. London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has previously complained about what he called "buck-passing and name-calling" in the U.S. against BP.
Russia, which received $70.5 million in U.S. aid last year and $78 million in 2008, said it could send boom, oil containers and ships if the U.S. paid for them.

China offered containment boom for a price. When a major earthquake struck in northwest China in April, the U.S. quickly gave $100,000 for relief supplies, and after another major earthquake in southwestern China in 2008, the U.S. donated $500,000 through the U.S. embassy in Beijing to the Red Cross to buy and deliver emergency supplies there. Congressional researchers estimate the U.S. spends roughly $30 million on foreign aid to China each year, including educational exchanges and health programs.

Israel, which receives roughly $3 billion in U.S. military aid and other assistance, also said it would send containment boom, if the U.S. paid for it.

France offered to send chemical dispersants and equipment to clean oil off birds but only for a price.
Kenya, which received more than $24 million in U.S. aid last year and $11 million in 2008 for humanitarian aid, offered to send fire boom but only if the Obama administration paid.

Vietnam offered a ship with oil-collecting sweep arms if the U.S. paid for it. The U.S. spent $102 million in all types of aid to Vietnam in 2008. When Typhoon Ketsana hit that country last fall, affecting 3 million people, the U.S. spent $100,000 on relief operations.

Romania made a "general offer of support" but asked the U.S. government for payment. After heavy rains sent in July 2008 sent four major rivers over their banks and killed five people, the U.S. gave $50,000 for emergency supplies.

Croatia offered to send technical experts and plans, for a price. The U.S. gave Croatia $50,000 to buy local firefighting equipment in 2007 when more than 800 wildfires broke out during an unusually hot and dry summer.
Eileen Sullivan and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press wrote this report.


Dear Bent,

Thank you for signing our letter to the President's National Ocean Council calling for an end to all new drilling and the establishment of marine reserves.

One year on, the BP Deepwater disaster continues to be felt in the Gulf of Mexico. That's why Greenpeace has been working with independent scientists from universities around the country to find out what has really happened to the oil, and what the long term impacts will be on this critical, fragile ecosystem. This work included a ship tour of the Gulf last year and we have lots of amazing footage from the expedition.

We've also been working to expose the truth behind the response to the disaster from both the government and BP and have launched a new website with thousands of documents related to the BP disaster. 

Check out what we've been up to by visiting our special webpage -- "BP Oil Spill: One Year Later." Thanks again for all you do.


John Hocevar
Greenpeace Oceans Campaign Director      April 20. 2011