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Independent report says BP downplayed risks

WASHINGTON — A new report from an independent scientific panel says BP and its contractors missed and ignored key warning signs and failed to fully recognize important risks in the days and hours leading up to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout.

Some of the panel's conclusions appear more critical of BP, the owner of the well, than preliminary findings issued last week by the presidential oil spill commission.

That commission said that while BP made decisions that saved time it found no evidence that employees consciously chose saving money over safety. The National Academy of Engineering, which issued the latest report, said BP and others involved in the disaster failed to manage risks and didn't even have a system in place to weigh safety against costs.

Several entities, including the Coast Guard, the Justice Department, Congress and BP itself, also are looking into the causes of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The various inquiries have so far come up with similar core findings: That BP and its partners misread critical pressure tests, that the cement job meant to seal the well didn't work and that the blowout preventer failed to stop the gusher as designed.

Yet the investigations vary sharply in emphasis and tone. BP's internal investigation spread the blame around, saying its partners on the doomed rig shared responsibility. The presidential panel said a cascade of failures, not any single decision, led to the disaster.

The engineering academy, which issued its report late Tuesday, focused on flawed and risky decisionmaking. It said that the companies involved downplayed the risks of deepwater drilling even as they insisted they never compromised safety.

"A great number of decisions, all of which appear to us to be questionable … also appeared to be justified by those individuals and those companies involved," said Donald Winter, chairman of the 15-member panel.

The reasons behind the differences in the panels' findings may have something to do with who is doing the investigating and why. The presidential panel included academics and an environmentalist but is led by a former Democratic senator and a former EPA administrator. The academy panel is composed entirely of scientists and marine, petroleum and chemical engineers. BP's panel was made up of BP employees.

Winter, a professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan, said Wednesday that the behavior leading up to the oil spill would be considered unacceptable in companies that work with nuclear power or aviation.

The committee is considering whether an independent technical authority, similar to that used in the submarine and nuclear fields, would provide critical checks and balances that were lacking.

Independent report says BP downplayed risks 11/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:22pm]
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