Panel: Gulf oil spill could happen again

By Harry R. Weber

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 6 2011 7:28 a.m. MST

The commission underscores its central conclusion with a quote from an e-mail written by BP engineer Brett Cocales on April 16, just days before the disaster. The e-mail was first unearthed in an investigation conducted by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, who at the time led the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"But, who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine and we'll get a good cement job," Cocales wrote, after he disagreed with BP's decision to use fewer centralizers than recommended. Centralizers are used to center the pipe to ensure a good cement job. The cement failed at the bottom of the Macondo well, allowing oil and gas to enter it, according to investigations.

The suggestion that the BP disaster may not be an isolated incident runs counter to assurances by the oil industry, which has worked hard to portray the accident as a rare occurrence.

"This clearly was a rare incident," the president of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, said Tuesday when his organization published a new report urging Congress and the Obama administration to open more areas to oil and gas drilling.

Outside experts in technological disasters were split by the report's excerpt. They lauded the commission's focus on organizational and managerial failures instead of blaming the rig workers. But they were divided whether the panel went far enough in criticizing the companies for taking time- and money-saving shortcuts.

University of California at Berkeley engineering professor Bob Bea, who has studied and worked on offshore oil rigs for decades and is an international expert on technological disasters, lauded the panel for "articulating the hows and whys."

"This was a preventable disaster," said Bea, who ran a Berkeley investigation into the accident. "We failed to manage and we were managed."

Cappiello reported from Washington. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.

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