Blowout preventer failure in Gulf of Mexico oil spill traced to bent drill pipe

Blowout preventer failure in Gulf of Mexico oil spill traced to bent drill pipe

Blowout preventer failure in Gulf of Mexico oil spill traced to bent drill pipe

A drill pipe got trapped and buckled in the device that was supposed to stop BP's Macondo well from blowing out last year, preventing key mechanisms from closing as they were designed to, according to a report released Wednesday by federal investigators.

Blowout preventers, or BOPs, are devices that use a series of rams, valves and shearing blades to close off subsea wells if oil and gas from deep below the seabed starts spewing out. At Macondo, the BOP sat on the well head, nearly a mile below the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Determining the BOP's role in the accident is a crucial part of the government's sprawling investigation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It could be a major factor in how blame is split among BP and its contractors for what could be multi-billion-dollar civil water-pollution penalties. The BOP's performance and how humans maintained and operated it are also likely to figure into an ongoing criminal investigation looking at whether individuals or companies willfully broke environmental and maritime laws.

Previous investigations determined that a series of human errors and disjointed decisions caused the rig to lose control of the well in the first place. But once oil and natural gas began flowing up the well -- a little after 9 p.m. on April 20 -- the rig crew's reaction and the performance of the BOP became more significant.

"A blowout preventer is like a car's airbag. It can't prevent the car accident, but it is supposed to deploy and prevent fatalities," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., an outspoken critic of the oil industry. "This report calls into question whether oil industry claims about the effectiveness of blowout preventers are just a bunch of hot air. It isn't clear from this report that blowout preventers can actually prevent major blowouts once they've started."

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