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BP primarily responsible for spill, says federal study

- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A key federal report goes further than other investigations and puts ultimate responsibility on BP for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history and the deaths of 11 rig workers, especially regarding the cement seal that was put in place the day before the explosion that triggered the spill.

The report, released Wednesday, says that in the days leading up to the disaster, BP made a series of decisions that complicated cementing operations, added risk and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the cement job.

Other companies also share some of the blame, according to the report, which notes that Transocean, as owner of the Deepwater Horizon, was responsible for conducting safe operations and protecting personnel onboard.

The report says BP, and in some cases its contractors, violated seven federal regulations at the time of the incident. They include the failure to take necessary precautions to keep the well under control at all times, to perform a cement job that kept the oil and gas down the hole, and to maintain the blowout preventer, which is supposed to lock in place to prevent a spill in case of an explosion, in accordance with industry-accepted practice.

The details are contained in the final report from an investigation team of the U.S. Coast Guard and the agency that regulates offshore drilling. The panel held hearings in the year following the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. The Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigation was among the most exhaustive.

The panel's report will be used to shape reforms to offshore drilling safety and regulation. It also will be used by lawyers for victims involved in the multibillion-dollar court battle over the oil spill and by government agencies that are considering civil and criminal charges against BP and other companies.

Other investigations spread around the blame more evenly, faulting misreadings of key data, the failure of the blowout preventer to stop the flow of oil to the sea and other shortcomings by executives, engineers and rig crew members.

The report says the decisions included using only one cement barrier and BP's choice to set the production casing in a location in the Macondo well that created additional risk of influx of oil or gas. The casing is a steel pipe placed in a well to maintain its integrity.

The panel said BP failed to communicate these decisions and the increasing risks to Transocean.

While the report recognizes that other companies had roles in the disaster, the panel said BP was the final decision maker.

"BP, as the designated operator under BOEMRE regulations, was ultimately responsible for conducting operations at Macondo in a way that ensured the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources, and the environment," the panel concluded.

The report pins the causes for the disaster on many of the same faulty decisions found by previous probes, including those by the president's independent oil spill commission, congressional committees and the companies themselves. However, it is likely to carry more weight in Congress, where Republican lawmakers in particular said they were unwilling to adopt reforms until the federal investigation was complete.

Since the disaster, the Obama administration has reorganized the offshore drilling agency and boosted safety regulations, but Congress has yet to pass a single piece of legislation to address safety gaps highlighted by the disaster.

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