Jimmy Harrell OIM: Another Domino Falls

Posted by valver on June 28, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

I saw an article at Fuel Fix about Jimmy Harrell.

Mr Harrell was the Offshore Installation Manager on the Deepwater Horizon the day of the blowout.

Seems Jimmy is now pleading the fifth amendment to avoid testifying in civil suits.

Tragic, really.

Mr Harrell works for Transocean. He insisted that the BP Supervisors conduct a well test they did not want to do.

Done properly, that test would have revealed the casing leak that ultimately sunk the rig.

Unfortunately, the BP knucklehead , Don Vidrine, could not understand the result of the test.

He decided to fake the test.

In the oilfield, faking a test is called ‘pencil whipping’ or ‘boilerhousing’.

I’m guessing Mr Harrell is in trouble because the fire and gas system had been diverted from automatic shutdown.

It had been that way for months, even mentioned in a Minerals Management Service inspection.

The person responsible for that was Mike Williams.

Unfortunately, the buck stops with Jimmy.

Others who have taken the fifth amendment:

Jesse Gagliano, the engineer who designed the casing cement job

Robert Kaluza, the BP day tour supervisor.

Donald Vidrine, the BP night tour supervisor is too ‘unwell’ to testify

The Transocean Blowout Preventor Maintenance people, Jay Odenwald and James Kent have refused to testify.

Learn more from the book ‘A Fatally Flawed Well’ at gulfoilspill.co.uk





Paper Heroes on the Deepwater Horizon

Posted by valver on June 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

News media are very casual about labeling interviewees as heroes.

60 minutes called Mike Williams, a ‘hero’.

Truth is, 60 minutes wanted somebody to talk to and Mr Williams had an interest in implicating others in the disaster.

Mr Williams was seen on the bridge just after the first explosion.

He spoke to Miles Ezell and disappeared.

Miles Ezell and Chad Murray struggled down the stairs to the lifeboat deck with an injured man on a stretcher.

When they arrived, Mike Williams butt was warming the seat in the lifecraft.

Some hero.

I saw an article describing the late Dale Birkeen as a hero.

The unfortunate Mr Birkeen was blown off the crane pedestal by the first explosion.

The fall to the main deck was fatal.

Mr Birkeen had no chance to help anybody.

If I was handing out the ‘hero’ tag, I would nominate Chris Choy and Fire Chief Dave Young.

Mr. Young arrived at his emergency station expecting to meet the fire crew.

The only fire crew member present was Chris Choy.

They attempted to rescue Mr. Birkeen, lying on the main deck.

Lacking sufficient numbers to handle a fire hose, they were driven back by the flames and heat.

Andrea Fleytas, a Dynamic Positioning Operator, has been labelled a heroine in an article in a History Network Blog.

Ms Fleytas demonstrated more personal courage than many people on the rig that day.

She remained at her emergency station until the ‘abandon ship’ call.

Ms Fleytas arrived at the life boat deck to find both escape capsules gone.

She and others were lowered in a life raft by the skipper Curt Kutcha.

So, Curt stayed on the burning vessel to lower the raft that rescued Ms Fleytas and others.

He then jumped 70 ft into the sea, swam to the rescue craft to get a knife and swam to the floating raft. He cut the painter securing the raft to the rig.

If you are looking for somebody to carry the hero tag, that’s my nomination right there.

Learn more from the book ‘A Fatally Flawed Well’ at gulfoilspill.co.uk




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A critical decision on the Deepwater Horizon

Posted by valver on June 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Offshore installations are tremendously complex.  The complicated machinery has to be self managing with alarm systems when human intervention is required.

Bilge pumps start up, smoke alarms activate and GPS systems lose a satellite, alarms are initiated constantly

The alarm system is always buzzing or flashing or ringing and somebody needs to acknowledge the alarm and take necessary action.

When the platform fire and gas system on the Deepwater Horizon started generating false alarms, the instrument maintenance guys had a problem.

This system sounds a panel alarm, but also sounds a general ‘boat stations’ alarm and shuts down electrical sources of ignition such as electrical motors.

Those alarms wear thin pretty quickly.

Nobody likes to turn out 3 times in one night for no reason and nobody enjoys restarting the many operations on the rig for the 3rd time in the same shift.

The instrument guys decided to disable the general alarm and the shutdown system.

That’s the way the gas and fire system stayed for months, nobody got around to finding the source of false alarms.

The alarm on the bridge panel was still operating, somebody on the bridge  would take the appropriate action if required.

On fixed platforms that ‘somebody’ is a platform production operator.

On a moving vessel, it is the watchkeeper.

On the Transocean Deepwater Horizon, that person was whoever was lowest in the pecking order when the alarm sounded.

That fateful day, the person acknowledging the alarm was Andrea Fleytas, the dynamic positioning system operator. (pictured)

Adrea Fleytas, Dynamic Positioning Operator

Ms Fleytas acknowledged the alarm and saw 10 to 20 high explosive gas indicator lamps on the panel.

The fire and gas system would have shut down ignition sources immediately.

As a decision, that was way above Ms Fleytas’ pay grade.

She asked the skipper what she should do but time was not on their side.

The gas explosion that killed 11 men made the decision not necessary.





Deepwater Horizon Blowout: The Original Theories Were Wrong

Posted by valver on June 1, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon


I mentioned in my last post that I watched a lot of the original testimony about the Deepwater Horizon blow-out and sinking.

It occurs to me that many of us decided what happened at that time and have not taken an interest since.

Here is a little quiz, see if you know what really happened.

The casing was run without enough centralizers. The blowout would not have occurred if the correct number were used.


The casing required at least 21 centralizers.

Only 6 centralizers were used.

However, the leak occured in the area where the 6 centralizers had been installed

The lack of centralizers was NOT responsible for the blowout.



Halliburton mixed and pumped the wrong cement mixture.

Halliburton is responsible for the blow out


The Halliburton cementer mixed and pumped the specified cement mix and volume.

He was watched by the BP Supervisor and Engineer

The ‘recipe’ for the cement was poor, that was not the cementer’s responsibility.


Schlumberger was on board to check the quality of the cement job.

The blow out could have been avoided if the cement quality had been checked.


Cement tests are unreliable.

The cement test could have said the cement was bad and nobody believed it



The gas bubble was detected while still in the riser under the rig.

A Transocean supervisor closed the surface blow out preventer and directed the flow from the well to the “Gas Buster”

The blow out could have been prevented if the supervisor had closed the valves to prevent flow


Guidelines specified he should do what he did.

The guidelines were wrong


A BP supervisor has declined to testify to the enquiry.

He says he may incriminate himself

The Halliburton hand says that the well failed a pressure test and the BP Supervisor decided to fake the results.

The blow out could have been prevented if the BP Supervisor had acted honestly.


A big gas bubble was on the way up the hole when he started the test, that is why the test was failing.

This man is not the sharpest tool in the shed.

His later actions made the problem much worse.


Learn more from the book ‘A Fatally Flawed Well’ at gulfoilspill.co.uk

A sample chapter is available, see the Blogroll link on the right side navigation bar.







Deepwater Horizon |Jesse Gagliano: Why the fifth?

Posted by valver on May 23, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

News media report that Jesse Gagliano (Bloomberg) has refused to testify at the inquest into the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Gagliano is a technical adviser who was Halliburton’s BP office based cementing engineer for the disastrous Macondo well.

The Macondo well blowout and the explosion that followed killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

I am puzzled why he felt himself to be implicated in the disaster.

I mentioned in another post that the cement recipe he recommended was useless.

That doesn’t make him criminally negligent, at least four BP engineers approved the cement recipe and placement method.

I listened to all eight hours of his testimony last night to try to work out what he had done.

Seems like he ‘helped out’ by typing his cement recipe and the method for placing the cement into one document with a sub heading ‘Halliburton recommendation’.

He recommended the recipe, the BP engineers came up with the placement method.

The small cement quantity involved should have been placed by pumping it through drillpipe and a cementing packer  to the bottom of the casing.

The method actually used pumped a 50 bbl cement pill through 18000 ft of casing at 4 barrels per minute.

The cement arrived contaminated and incapable of sealing the casing against gas inflow.

Shows you should always remember the first rule of the oilfield.

Cover Your A..

Learn more from the book ‘A Fatally Flawed Well’ at gulfoilspill.co.uk





Fatal Short Cut: Deepwater Horizon Blow Out

Posted by valver on May 15, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

WKRG.com News

It’s hard to believe that a short cut to save a little time was  one reason for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

After drilling a hole, drill rigs run steel tube (called ‘casing’) to line the hole.

Casing laid out on the deck

Casing on a land rig

The casing needs a one way valve at the bottom, this valve is usually just a ball and seat.

Casing Float valves

Different styles of float valves

At least two, sometimes four of these valves are run.

They have one drawback, you need to stop every now and again and fill the casing up with drilling mud – the mud cannot flow in the bottom.

The Deepwater Horizon ran a different type of one way valve.

This setup had two ‘flapper’ valves held open by a piece of pipe.

Flapper valves held open by a pipe

The valves are held open by a pipe, it is not necessary to stop and fill casing while running in the hole.

On bottom, the pipe is removed and the flapper valves close.


Closed Flapper Valve

Time is saved, but there are no backup valves and it is easy to confuse a blocked casing bottom with pumping out the piece of pipe.

A direct cause of the entry of oil and gas which sunk the Deepwater Horizon.

The disaster is explained in greater detail in my book at http://gulfoilspill.co.uk/

Use the link in the blogroll section of the right hand sidebar to read a sample chapter.



Jimmy Harrell: Offshore Installation Manager on the Deepwater Horizon

Posted by valver on May 13, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) on a floating drilling platform is a difficult job.

The OIM is employed by Transocean to take overall responsibility for safe and profitable operation of the rig.

As Transocean’s representative, he ensures compliance with the BP contract while being the final judge on safety.

On April 12, the BP team leader, Ronnie Sepulvado, showed Jimmy the forward plans for the well. The plan included a pressure test of the well casing. The pumps would pump fluid into the casing to high pressures to check for leaks.

Jimmy knew that test was not enough. He insisted on a ‘negative’ pressure test also.

In negative tests, the pressure inside the casing is reduced to less than the outside pressure. This is another method for finding leaks.

Ronnie passed the change back to ‘town’.

  • On April 20, the morning of the explosion, Ronnie has left the rig.  Bob Kaluza presents the day’s plans to Jimmy.
  • Kaluza has a procedure for the test but does not understand it. He leaves the test out of the day’s plan.
  • Jimmy specifies he wants a negative casing pressure test.


Kaluza proceeds with the test and miscalculates volumes to be pumped.

The final result is the explosion

During the evacuation, Jimmy organizes a stretcher and helps carry a BP VIP down to the lifeboat deck.

What do Kaluza and Vidrine, the BP ‘Team Leaders’ do?

Their sorry rear ends are gone on the first lifeboat before Jimmy gets to the lifeboat deck.





A Terrible Dilemma: Blow-Out on the Deepwater Horizon

Posted by valver on May 9, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

Inquiries have lots of time to examine split second  decisions.

Following the explosion and loss of the Deepwater Horizon, decisions made by Jason Anderson attracted criticism.


Jason Anderson Toolpusher on the Deepwater Horizon

Jason Anderson, Toolpusher on the Deepwater Horizon

The BP inquiry said:

“Diversion to the mud gas separator resulted in gas venting onto the rig”.

None of that means anything to most people but the explanation is fairly simple.

The Deepwater Horizon had two separate blow out control systems.

System ONE was a  diverter system as in this image

Shallow High Pressure Gas Diverter

Shallow High Pressure Gas Diverter System

That device marked “Diverter Element” holds the big rubber doughnut shown beside it.

The Diverter is at surface and is used if the drill hits shallow high pressure gas. The diverter doughnut is closed, the valve on the diverter line is opened and gas roars out of the diverter line and over the side at great speed.

A workboat alongside when the diverter is activated is going to be in a great deal of trouble. Fatalities can and have occurred.

Remember SYSTEM ONE is for Shallow High Pressure Gas

System TWO starts at the sea floor.

Deepwater Horizon Riser to the seafloor
Deepwater Horizon Riser to the seafloor

This system closes a doughnut around the drillpipe at the sea floor. The oil and gas is piped to the rig up a small high pressure line and run through a ‘choke’ to reduce pressure.

A low pressure  ‘mud-gas separator’ is used to remove the gas and exhaust the gas through a breather pipe at the top of the derrick.

So System TWO is for deep gas and oil. The pressure is reduced and the gas exhausted at the top of the derrick.

Here is Jason’s dilemma
A fountain of mud 100 feet high is surging out of the hole at the rig floor

He closes the doughnut on diverter system ONE and stops the flow.

Now What?

  • If Jason opens the diverter line he might kill and injure people on the work boat alongside.
  • At the least, he will be filing a pollution report the next day.
  • Jason does not know how much pressure he is dealing with here.
  • He changes valves to run the flow from surface through the mud-gas separator and see what comes out of the hole.

Unfortunately, the high pressure gas hits the mud-gas separator and explodes.

Jason and ten other workmates are killed instantly.

The disaster is explained in greater detail in my book at http://gulfoilspill.co.uk/

Use the link in the blogroll section of the right hand sidebar to read a sample chapter.








Gulf Oil Spill: The Nuremberg Defence

Posted by valver on May 5, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon should have been avoided by the fire and gas detection system on the rig.

Unfortunately, the whole system was isolated to prevent the crew being woken by false alarms.

This YouTube  video from 60 minutes gives background on the disaster and an interview with hero Mike Williams.

The fire and gas system incorporates gas ‘sniffers’ which react to an explosive gas mixture.

The gas system:

  • Shuts down all sources of electrical ignition
  • Closes dampers on engine houses to prevent diesel engines ‘breathing’ gas
  • Shuts down the air conditioning in living quarters to prevent gas entry
  • Sounds an alarm to muster at the lifeboats

Didn’t happen because the system had been generating false alarms.

The system had been isolated for months.

A government inspector had reported on the alarm some months previously but no action was taken.

The instrument technicians reported the system to be operating every month.

The technicians on the spot had every opportunity to repair this intermittent fault and return to normal operations.

Why did they not do it?

Lazy maybe, incompetent for sure.

It’s easy to name these guys just by looking at the crew returns.

Mike Williams was one instrument tech.

Hang on, that’s the ‘hero’ in the YouTube clip who was just following orders!






Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Posted by valver on April 27, 2011 in A Fatally Flawed Well Blowout on the Deepwater Horizon

Saw an article about Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones. Gordon was a drilling fluids engineer (otherwise known as a ‘mud man’) on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon when the Blow-out and explosions occurred.


On Tuesday, April 20, 2010 an offshore oil drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana.

Mr Jones accuses BP, Transocean and Halliburton of progressively reducing safety measures such that an explosion eventually occurred.

Transocean appears to be responsible for many of the string of failures that led to the disaster. The latest Coast Guard inquiry to be released on July 27 promises to condemn  Transocean and their safety culture.


Personally, I feel that Halliburton do not share the blame for this disaster.

This diagram from  my book at http://gulfoilspill.co.uk/ shows how the cement slurry looked at the end of Halliburton’s ‘mix and pump’ cementing procedure.

Casing cement on the Deepwater Horizon drill rig

Flawed Casing Cement Job

Looks bad for Halliburton?

Maybe, but the whole job was approved by BP and pumped under the supervision of the BP Supervisor and Rig Drilling Engineer.

Halliburton just did what they were told.

See more at http://gulfoilspill.co.uk/

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