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Alarm system disabled, hundreds of problems found on rig before disaster

KENNER, La. — Long before an eruption of gas turned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig into a fireball, an alarm system designed to alert the crew and prevent combustible gases from reaching potential sources of ignition had been deliberately disabled, the former chief electronics technician on the rig testified Friday.

Michael Williams, a former Marine who survived the April 20 inferno by jumping from the burning rig, told a federal panel probing the disaster that the alarm system was one of an array of critical systems that had been malfunctioning before the blowout.

Williams told the panel that he understood that the rig had been operating with the gas alarm system in "inhibited" mode for a year to prevent false alarms from disturbing the crew.

He said that when he reported the alarm system's status to supervisors, and that they informed him that orders were to keep it that way.

An attorney for BP, Richard Godfrey, added to the picture by reading from a September 2009 BP audit during his questioning of Williams. He read a litany of findings that included problems with bilge pumps, cooling pumps, an alarm system related to the rig's hospital and an emergency shutdown panel on the bridge.

Altogether, the September audit identified 390 issues that needed addressing, Godfrey said.

Feds try again to get drill ban reinstated

U.S. regulators asked an appeals court Friday to reverse a judge's decision and uphold a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans on June 22 threw out the temporary ban imposed by federal regulators on oil and gas drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet. Feldman blocked the government from enforcing the ban, calling it overly broad and punitive to the regional economy.

The regulators asked the Court of Appeals in New Orleans to reject Feldman's order, arguing that the risk of a second spill outweighs the economic impact of the drilling ban.

As BP hires scientists, questions arise

HOUSTON — Faced with hundreds of lawsuits and a deep need for experts, BP has been offering some Gulf Coast scientists lucrative consulting contracts that bar them from releasing their findings on the company's massive oil spill for three years.

Some scientists say the contracts constrain academic freedom. And others argue BP's contract is standard, and with little federal funding available to study the spill's impact, Gulf Coast researchers have few other options.

BP confirms hiring more than a dozen scientists who have Gulf Coast expertise to assist with lawsuits and assess the environmental damage caused by the spill.

"What we have asked is that they treat information from BP's lawyers as confidential, as is customary," said David Nicholas, a BP spokesman in London. "But we do not take the position that environmental data is confidential and we do not place restrictions on academics speaking about scientific data."

Alarm system disabled, hundreds of problems found on rig before disaster 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 10:11pm]
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