Commission finds that BP, Halliburton knew of cement flaws prior to well explosion

Brett Michael Dykes
October 28, 2010

Is it possible that a new but already notorious co-villain could emerge in the wake of the BP oil disaster?

Earlier in the week, the federal commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the causes of the oil spill reported that government inspectors working at the Minerals Management Service (MMS) often knew little or nothing about the processes they oversaw on offshore drilling rigs and platforms. More specifically, the commission found they knew little or nothing about how drilling crews should go about safely lining and sealing an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Thursday the commission dropped another bombshell regarding the same process: BP and Halliburton knew weeks before the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion that the cement mixture they planned to use to seal the well was faulty, but they both went forward with the job anyway.

In a letter to the commission released today, lead investigator Fred Bartlit writes that Halliburton -- which was contracted by BP to handle the cementing of the well -- conducted three lab tests to determine if the cement mixture met industry standards. (It did not.)

According to Bartlit, one bad test result was passed on to BP, but the oil giant did nothing in response. A second failed test result wasn't passed by Halliburton to BP at all. The tests were stopped when, after tinkering with its cement recipe, Halliburton came up with a satisfactory result. The details of the final mixture, however, also were not given to BP.

It's widely accepted at this point that the root cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion was that the well was improperly sealed, allowing explosive hydrocarbons to enter into the well and setting off a catastrophic chain of events. Halliburton has publicly insisted that there was nothing wrong with its cementing work.

"We have known for some time that the cement used to secure the production casing and isolate the hydrocarbon zone at the bottom of the Macondo well must have failed in some manner," Bartlit said in his letter to the presidential commission. "The cement should have prevented hydrocarbons from entering the well."

Following an internal investigation this summer, BP pointed the finger of blame for the accident at Halliburton for doing shoddy contracting work.

"To put it simply, there was a bad cement job and a failure of the shoe track barrier at the bottom of the well, which let hydrocarbons from the reservoir into the production casing," then-CEO Tony Hayward said at the time.

Halliburton -- an oilfield services contractor formerly headed by Dick Cheney -- has repeatedly insisted that BP's flawed well design was the true cause of the disaster.

(Photo: AP)