The accident on the BP Maconda oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last April killed 11 contract workers and spilled an estimated 185-million gallons of oil. Before the leak was stopped almost three months after it happened, hearings into the accident began.
The latest one, here in Houston, came at the request by the Department of Interior. Don Winter with National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, chaired the hearing. He said the focus centered on the technical aspect, and what specific components failed.
"Our committee is looking at a broader context, to try to understand the decision making process, the management issues, the safety management approach. What was used, what worked, what didn't work, and what perhaps needs to be changed for the future."
He says human error is a natural consequence of human engagement, regardless of the size of the project:
"We need to have checks and balances, whether that's management of change processes, whether that's oversight by government regulators, oversight within corporate structures, there are various ways of doing that. The other issue is having the means to respond, so that should an issue arise, there is a mechanism available to be able to manage and mitigate the consequences of such an event."
One question examined at the hearing was whether a different type of regulatory system should be in place, based on the risk a particular well poses. Participant William Daugherty, drilling manager with ATP Oil and Gas Corporation said no.
"My worry is, when you start classing wells as routine or easy, you kill people. To me, that's part of what happened at Maconda. Those guys thought they had that on the hill, and they turned their back on it. And the well came in, they were doing a bunch of other things and were busy, and got distracted and didn't pay attention to their primary job, and they paid with their life."
Daugherty says you must be qualified to judge the risk, which he says is part of the job they're paid to do. Hearing panelists included representatives from Shell, Conoco-Phillips, Baker Hughes, Schlumberger and the International Association of Drilling Contractors. Findings and recommendations from the gathering will be presented to the DOI in June.