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Spill Baby Spill

You may remember that the plot line of the popular movie The China Syndrome hung on a smoking gun discovered in the engineering records kept by the utility company that built the nuclear reactor that was the non-human star of the movie.

Regulations required that that every weld in the cooling systems of the reactor be tested, and that documentation of that testing, include X-ray photographs of every weld.

The expense involved in meeting this sort of regulatory requirement is something which drives our captains of industry crazy, and as was depicted in the movie, they are tempted to fudge the documentation both to cut costs, and to speed up the process of getting these expensive and tremendously complicated projects built.

In the movie, it turns out that the utility had subverted regulation by falsifying the required tests by filing fake X-ray photographs of good welds to document tests that, in fact had never been tested.

Well, it turns out that BP, the owner of the Horizon oil rig that burned and sank in the Gulf of Mexico last week, had been accused by a whistle-blower of just the same kind of fraudulent recordkeeping in the required documentation related to BP Atlantis, the world’s largest and deepest semi-submersible oil and natural gas platform.

From Jason Leopold at Truthout

"…It was then that the whistleblower, who was hired to supervise the company’s databases, discovered that Atlantis had been operating without a majority of the engineer-approved documents it needed to run safely. BP’s own internal communications show that company officials were aware of the issue and feared that the document shortfalls related to Atlantis "could lead to catastrophic operator error."


Nobody could ever have thought something like this could happen.

"The risk in turning over drawings that are not complete are: 1) The Operator will assume the drawings are accurate and up to date," the email said. "This could lead to catastrophic Operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct," said Duff’s email to BP officials Bill Naseman and William Broman. "Turning over incomplete drawings to the Operator for their use is a fundamental violation of basic Document control, [internal standards] and Process Safety Regulations."


Did those oil platform workers have any chance of saving themselves, or the platform when things went wrong out there, or were they relying on procedures based on defective documentation which led to catastrophe?

"Last May, Mike Sawyer, an engineer with Apex Safety Consultants who evaluated BP’s database and looked into the whistleblower’s allegations, concluded that of the 2,108 P&IDs BP maintained that dealt specifically with the subsea components of its Atlantis production project, 85 percent did not receive engineer approval. Even worse, 95 percent of Atlantis’ subsea welding records did not receive final approval, calling into question the integrity of thousands of crucial welds on subsea components that, if they were to rupture, could result in an oil spill 30 times worse than the one that occurred after the explosion on Deepwater Horizon last week."


In other words, although the next spill could be damn near unimaginable in size, why, and how it could happen is totally imaginable.

The fact that our industrial leaders are capable of this sort of behavior is well known, but seems to have no impact on our political leaders decision to allow these folks expanded rights to drill for oil in our coastal waters.

I suspect that the dominant factor in the decision to cave to those chanting Drill Baby Drill, is pure political expedience, almost totally unconnected to our country’s energy needs.

I suppose we’re to accept all this as creative destruction?

I just don’t know what to say anymore.

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