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Wednesday April 27, 2011

Bloomberg

BP Cited ‘Well Control Situation’ Six Weeks Before Blowout

May 31, 2010, 12:19 AM EDT

By Joe Carroll

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc told regulators six weeks before its well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded that workers were having trouble maintaining control, according to e-mails released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee investigating the spill.

A March 10 e-mail to Frank Patton, the U.S. Minerals Management Service’s drilling engineer for the New Orleans district, from BP executive Scherie Douglas said the company planned to sever the pipe connecting the well to the rig and plug the hole.

“We are in the midst of a well control situation on MC 252 #001 and have stuck pipe,” Douglas wrote, referring to the subsea block, Mississippi Canyon 252, of the stricken well. “We are bringing out equipment to begin operations to sever the drillpipe, plugback the well and bypass.”

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the panel’s oversight subcommittee, released the documents related to oil-well design, and e-mails from March, February and November 2009. The documents “raise questions, but their connection to the blowout, if any, require additional investigation,” the lawmakers said.

The e-mails shows that as early as the second week of March, BP was enlisting help from J. Connor Consulting Inc., a Houston-based firm that advises some of the world’s biggest energy companies on how to respond to oil spills.

Federal regulators gave BP permission to cement the well at a shallower depth than normally would have been required after the hole caved in on drilling equipment, the e-mails showed.

Verbal Approval

Douglas or BP, the senior regulatory and advocacy adviser for the company’s exploration and production unit, received verbal approval from an unnamed MMS official at 11 p.m. on March 11 to insert the cement plug about 750 feet (229 meters) above the bottom of the hole, the e-mails showed.

The House committee is investigating the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers, sank Transocean’s $365 million Deepwater Horizon rig, and triggered a spill that threatens the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. The panel also is probing equipment meant to prevent spills at deepwater wells and whether human error played a role.

The New York Times reported yesterday that internal BP documents showed “serious problems and safety concerns” with the rig prior to the explosion that triggered the largest oil spill in the nation’s history.   Waxman and Stupak sent letters on May 28 to clean-up consultants working for BP and Transocean, seeking documents including contacts and emergency-response plans.

Letters were sent to O’Brien’s Response Management Inc. of Spring, Texas; Marine Spill Response Corp. of Herndon, Virginia; and the National Response Corp. of Great River, New York. National Response is a unit of Seacor Holdings Inc.

All three companies have service agreements with BP or Transocean, the committee said in a statement.

--With assistance from Jim Snyder in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Carroll in Chicago at jcarroll8@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net.

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