BP Is Only Partly to Blame

This article has been adapted from our sister site across the pond, Fool UK.

BP  (NYSE: BP  ) has released its keenly awaited report into the events surrounding the explosion on April 20 of its Macondo oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

It's not just BP's fault
One problem with media coverage of this environmental catastrophe is that all blame was heaped on BP, despite the Deepwater Horizon rig being a joint venture between BP and U.S. firms Halliburton  (NYSE: HAL  ) and Transocean (NYSE: RIG  ) .

However, in a lengthy report written over four months by BP's Head of Safety and Operations and 50 internal and external specialists, BP refutes claims that it was solely at fault. In an announcement earlier today, BP summarized the report as follows:

"No single factor caused the Macondo well tragedy. Rather, a sequence of failures involving a number of different parties led to the explosion and fire which killed 11 people and caused widespread pollution in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year."

BP's soon-to-be-ex-CEO Tony Hayward adds, "It is evident that a series of complex events, rather than a single mistake or failure, led to the tragedy. Multiple parties, including BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, were involved." 

Hayward also added that it is unlikely that the well's design contributed to the incident, which is a relief for its architects.

A complex chain of defects
BP's report cites a number of contributory factors to the accident, including "mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation, and team interfaces."

Among these factors were:

  • a failure of the cement slurry at the base of well to contain hydrocarbons within the reservoir;
  • incorrect acceptance of the results of negative pressure-test by BP and Transocean;
  • the Transocean rig crew failing to spot and act on the influx of hydrocarbons into the well until oil was rapidly flowing to the surface;
  • the well-flow was not routed to a mud-gas separator, allowing gas to be vented onto the rig instead of overboard;
  • this allowed gas to enter the engine rooms via the ventilation system, creating a potential for ignition; and
  • after the explosion, the rig's blow-out preventer did not operate and failed to seal the well.

We all know what happened next: this tragic accident led to the deaths of 11 men and created the worst oil spill in history, devastating the environment and communities along America's Gulf coast.

BP isn't off the hook
The report's investigation team recommends 25 steps aimed at preventing similar catastrophes, covering blow-out preventers, well control, pressure-testing, emergency systems, cement testing, rig audit and verification, and personnel competence. These are aimed at the entire oil-exploration industry -- not just BP.

Of course, BP's harshest critics will undoubtedly argue that this report is a whitewash, having been produced by and on behalf of the oil giant. However, given the complexity of deep-water drilling and the number of work teams and companies involved, it was always highly unlikely that BP was solely to blame.

Thus, although BP was a convenient scapegoat, the true picture was always much more complicated than that painted by the U.S. press and public. In addition, the company has apologized (incoming CEO Bob Dudley: "We deeply regret this event") and has shouldered its responsibilities, paying around $8 billion to date in clean-up costs and compensation.

You can read BP's full report (and view a 29-minute accompanying video) here.

What about BP's owners?
It seems that BP is over the worst and its shell-shocked shareholders can start to rebuild their faith in the company.

First, the $20 billion escrow account to pay the remaining costs and claims is being handled by Kenneth Feinberg, the respected lawyer who presided over the 9/11 victims' compensation fund.

Second, CEO Tony Hayward -- seen as a weak leader during the crisis by BP's critics, especially in the U.S. -- has announced his resignation, to be replaced by an American, Bob Dudley.

Third, BP's share price has bounced back from its stomach-churning lows below £3, when I identified it as a blow-out bargain. As I write, it is up 1.5% at 413p -- almost 40% above the lows of June 25. Congratulations to all those investors brave (and contrarian) enough to buy when others talked of BP's imminent bankruptcy!

More from Cliff D'Arcy:

Brian Richards prepared this article for publication on Fool.com. Neither Brian nor Cliff D'Arcy owns shares of any companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 08, 2010, at 5:30 PM, spokanimal wrote:

    As the company leasing the rig, BP was "operator" and was responsible for all decisions made aboard it. They made decisions on well design, drilling processes and downtime attributable to maintenance issues.

    Because that is true, BP signed an "indemnification agreement" with Transocean which prevents them from assigning blame to the rig owner for blowouts such as these.

    Now we are seeing BP exhibit the same cavalier attitude towards their contractual agreement with Transocean as they had exhibited toward substandard well design, shortcuts, and cost saving measures....

    .... any trial judge that can't see that should be immediately appealed and subsequently removed from the bench!

    Your Motley Fool piece was obviously written in the U.K. and not in Houston.

    S.

  • Report this Comment On September 08, 2010, at 5:43 PM, Samichhands wrote:

    Joint venture with RIG and HAL? Seriously?

    So if you hire a contractor to pave your driveway, are they then in a joint venture for your house? Will they get a portion of the profit you realize from the improvement when you sell?

    Further, when you instruct that contractor not to use rebar to save a few bucks, do you then hold them liable when it cracks and falls apart?

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