BP oil spill: US report shares Deepwater Horizon blame

Adam Brookes says the findings of the report are wide ranging

A US federal report has blamed the worst oil spill in US history on "key mis-steps", poor leadership and a poor cement job by BP and its contractors.

BP was "ultimately responsible" for rig safety, with Transocean responsible for safe operations and worker safety.

BP tried to save time and money at the cost of safety, and Transocean operated normally despite the hazards, it said.

"Multiple causes, involving multiple parties, including Transocean and Halliburton" were to blame, BP said.

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon blast killed 11 workers and spilled four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

It took three months and highly complex undersea engineering effort to plug the well and stop the oil flow.

New recommendations

The report, issued by the the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the US Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team, echoes previous reports in concluding that multiple factors contributed to the disaster.

Analysis

This report may be the latest of several into last year's Gulf of Mexico spill, but this one represents the US government's findings and is likely to be taken seriously by US politicians.

It seems to lay much of the blame at the feet of BP. But other companies involved in operations at the well - particularly Transocean and Halliburton - are also criticised.

It is interesting that, in its response to the report, BP agrees that the Deepwater Horizon accident was the result of "multiple causes, involving multiple parties". Another reading of the report might infer a less equal distribution of blame.

Still, these are the three companies whose names we have heard most closely linked with the disaster in previous investigations and this report may add weight to some of the several court cases that could follow. The companies are all involved in complex litigation with each other over responsibility. Potential damages could run into the billions of dollars and final settlement will undoubtedly take many years.

By way of comparison, damages claims in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 (which was the biggest in US history until the Gulf of Mexico) spent nearly 20 years in the US courts.

The explosion was "the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible," it said.

As well as labelling BP "ultimately responsible" for safety, the report blames Halliburton for conducting a poor cement job to seal the well that failed in the run-up to the blast.

Commissioned in April 2010, just days after the explosion at the rig, the report also offers recommendations to improve the way the offshore drilling industry is regulated.

A number of other reports have been published in the wake of the oil spill.

The Oil Spill Commission, set up by the White House, was asked to look into the causes of the disaster. BP also published its own report investigating the same issues.

Correspondents say the latest report may also offer a hint at the direction of any legal ramifications for BP and others, and could lead to more charges against them by the US government.

In December 2010, the US Department of Justice sued BP and eight other companies for billions of dollars in damages from the spill. The lawsuit asked that the companies be held "liable without limitation".

The report is also likely to be combed over by corporate legal teams working on lawsuits the Deepwater Horizon companies have brought against each other.

In April 2011, a year after the blow-out at the Macondo well, BP sued Transocean for $40bn (£25.3bn) in damages - the start of a long legal battle to spread the costs of the clean-up that, until then, had been covered by BP alone.

Transocean spokesman Brian Kennedy told the BBC that while the company agreed with some of the report's conclusions, they took "strong exception to criticisms of the Horizon drill crew, nine of whom perished fighting to save their fellow crewmembers and the rig, for the actions they took in the face of such an unprecedented emergency".

Halliburton and BP have also filed several lawsuits against each other - over the issue of the faulty cement seal, defamation and the concealment of vital information that could have prevented the disaster.

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