WASHINGTON — For the sake of saving time and drilling costs on its ill-fated exploration well, BP took shortcuts that led to the oil spill disaster, according to a letter from two House Democrats who have been leading an investigation of the spill.
"In effect, it appears that BP repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time and made minimal efforts to contain the added risk."
Those cost savings seem trivial now in light of the blowout that triggered the oil spill. But given the $1 million to $2 million a day it costs to run a drilling rig, they seem to have loomed large at the time.
One of those decisions was to use only six devices for centering the drill pipe in the well hole instead of 21 as initially planned and recommended.
In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official said that "it will take 10 hours to install them. . . . I do not like this," according to the lawmakers' letter. Later that day, the letter continues, another official recognized the risks but said: "Who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine."
The letter from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bart Stupak is addressed to BP chief executive Tony Hayward in advance of hearings today where oil company executives are expected to testify. Based on documents and interviews the committee obtained, the two lawmakers say that "BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure."
According to the committee's investigation so far, those decisions were:
• BP saved $7 million to $10 million using a more risky option for the well casing, or steel tubing. The safer option, known as the liner-tieback option, would have provided more barriers to prevent the flow of natural gas up the space between the steel tubes and the well wall.
• BP failed to install enough devices to center the pipe in the hole, which increased the danger of cracks in the cement surrounding the pipe.
• BP decided against a nine- to 12-hour procedure known as a "cement bond log" that would have tested the integrity of the cement.
• BP did not fully circulate drilling mud, which would have taken as long as 12 hours. That would have helped detect any pockets of gas, which later shot up the well and exploded on the deck of the drilling rig.
• BP did not secure the connections between pipes of different diameters.
The letter reveals that even before the accident, BP engineers were struggling with unusual difficulties. On April 14, BP drilling engineer Brian Morel e-mailed a colleague, Richard Miller, saying that "this has been (a) nightmare well which has everyone all over the place."