GULF SPILL:

BP points finger at contractors in hotly anticipated accident report

BP PLC is shifting at least part of the blame for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill to Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd., its subcontractors on the failed exploration project.

The British oil giant, in a highly anticipated internal probe released today, said the April 20 accident that killed 11 workers and spewed 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico stemmed from a series of failures by all the companies working on the project.

"It is evident that a series of complex events, rather than a single mistake or failure, led to the tragedy," outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward said in a statement. "Multiple parties, including BP, Halliburton and Transocean, were involved."

The four-month-long investigation, led by BP's head of safety and operations Mark Bly, concluded in a 193-page report that a "complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces" were to blame for the accident.

The report specifically faults Halliburton's work in cementing the bottom of the well and BP and Transocean's incorrect acceptance of a pressure test. The probe also found that Transocean employees failed to recognize or act on the rapid rise of hydrocarbons into the well until they were nearly at the surface. Transocean owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded while drilling the BP well.

The report also points out failures in well-control procedures and the blowout preventer as well as the drilling rig's fire and gas system that did not prevent the explosion.

But Hayward was quick to point out that the report clears BP's well design as a factor in the disaster.

"It would appear unlikely that the well design contributed to the incident, as the investigation found that the hydrocarbons flowed up the production casing through the bottom of the well," Hayward said.

BP executives are already running damage control, saying they have always shared the blame with the other companies working on the project.

"We have said from the beginning that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a shared responsibility among many entities," the oil giant's incoming CEO Bob Dudley said. "This report makes that conclusion even clearer, presenting a detailed analysis of the facts and recommendations for improvement both for BP and the other parties involved."

Bly, the probe's leader, went so far as to say the purpose of the probe "was not to apportion blame or liability but rather to learn, recommend areas for improvement and share our lessons with others."

But the other companies involved in the accident are not buying it.

"This is a self-serving report that attempts to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP's fatally flawed well design," a Transocean spokesman said in an e-mailed statement. "In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk -- in some cases, severely."

Halliburton, too, found fault with the report and was quick to point the finger back at BP.

"We have noticed a number of substantial omissions and inaccuracies in the document," a Halliburton spokeswoman said in an e-mail, adding that the company was confident it performed all its work "in accordance with BP's specifications."

"Deepwater operations are inherently complex and a number of contractors are involved, which routinely make recommendations to a single point of contact, the well owner," the Halliburton spokeswoman said. "The well owner is responsible for designing the well program and any testing related to the well. Contractors do not specify well design or make decisions regarding testing procedures as that responsibility lies with the well owner."

Transocean is conducting its own investigation into the accident and has accused BP of withholding documents needed to complete the probe.

"Transocean's investigation is ongoing and will be concluded when all the evidence is in, including the critical information the company has requested of BP but has yet to receive," the spokesman said.

Environmentalists and lawmakers say they are also awaiting the results of other investigations before pointing fingers.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the conservation group will wait to hear the assessments from the departments of Interior and Justice "to find what really happened and who is to blame."

"BP's internal investigation doesn't pass the smell test. Rather than accept the blame and financial consequences for its disaster, BP is continuing to point fingers at everyone it can," Suckling said in a statement. "This report is more concerned with calming BP's shareholders than taking responsibility for its actions."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and a top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, also blasted BP for its conclusions.

"This report is not BP's mea culpa," Markey said in a statement. "BP is happy to slice up blame, as long as they get the smallest piece."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, took a different approach, calling the negligence of all the companies outlined in the report "shameful."

"The American people have a right to expect that industry and the federal government have the know-how and wherewithal to ensure safe offshore drilling operations," Issa said. "People, particularly those whose lives have been directly affected by this disaster, should be angry about all that went wrong."

Click here to read the report.

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