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BP Admits Errors in Gulf Oil Disaster But Spreads Blame

September 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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BP issued a new internal report blaming the largest offshore oil spill in history on a series of human and mechanical failures. Judy Woodruff talks to Steven Mufson of the Washington Post about the report.

GWEN IFILL: Now: BP releases its own investigation of what was behind the oil spill, a report that’s being heavily disputed.

Judy Woodruff has the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The 193-page report describes the incident as an accident that arose from — quote — “a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation, and team interfaces.”

BP goes admits some errors, but also cites crucial mistakes by rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton. In statements today, Transocean said the report was a self-serving attempt to conceal — quote — “BP’s fatally flawed well design.” And Halliburton cited a number of omissions and inaccuracies.

Numerous hearings about who was to blame have been held on Capitol Hill since the April accident. BP released a video today alongside the report, voiced by the company’s lead investigator.

MARK BLY, chief investigator, BP: We concluded that there was no single action or inaction that caused the accident. Instead, we found that there were eight interrelated and contributing factors that led to this tragedy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Those factors included a misinterpretation of a pressure test of the well’s integrity by engineers and employees, and a failure by both companies on the rig to respond to warning signs of a well blowout.

The report claims the blowout didn’t come up the outside of the well casing, but rather up through the center of the pipe. BP has been criticized for its decision to use a cheaper, but riskier type of well casing.

The government’s point man on the spill response, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, cited continuing investigations in a conference call today.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN (RET.), national incident commander: It is not the end-all-be-all of what’s going to have to be done in this to address the issues of associated with this event, why it happened and what needs to happen in the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In its report and video, BP agreed that this is not the final word on what happened. Just last weekend, a major piece of evidence, the 300-ton blowout preventer that failed to seal the well, was hoisted out of the water and sent to a NASA facility in New Orleans for government investigators to analyze it.

Meanwhile, BP faces legal hurdles. The U.S. Department of Justice is still considering criminal and civil charges.

For more, we’re joined by Steven Mufson. He’s covering the story for The Washington Post. Steven, thank you for being with us.

STEVEN MUFSON, The Washington Post: Glad to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: First of all, how thorough was this BP investigation? Is it known?

STEVEN MUFSON: Well, it it’s about a 243-page report, and it’s pretty thorough. Of course, there are a lot of things they don’t have access to. They didn’t have access to the blowout preventer, to a lot of the employees at other companies. So, it’s not a complete look, but it’s — it’s more than we have seen so far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All in all, how much responsibility do they accept for what happened?

STEVEN MUFSON: They accept some responsibility for some decision — their role in some of the decisions made on the well, but there’s a lot of blame that they’re spreading to the contractors who are working for them, contractors like Halliburton, who did the cement job, to Transocean, that was operating the rig and the blowout preventer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you pinpoint what they themselves accept responsibility for?

STEVEN MUFSON: I think the closest we get to that is some decisions about whether they should have run additional tests at certain steps, and also the failure to recognize some of the warning signs that there were hydrocarbons in the well. But, in those cases, they share that responsibility with Transocean.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And they also say that the blowout happened through the center of the pipe, rather than through the casing around the outside of it.

STEVEN MUFSON: Right. The significance of this, Judy, is that they have been very harshly criticized by a lot of people who say that their well design was faulty, that they used too long a segment of pipe, that it wasn’t attached to other components correctly.

And, here, they’re saying that, no matter what you think of our well design, that wasn’t the problem here, and that’s not where the breakdown took place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, on what they say is the responsibility of Transocean and Halliburton, both of those companies are taking issue with them.

STEVEN MUFSON: Absolutely. They have responded very vigorously, saying that BP is ignoring all the mistakes it made, and that it’s not really sharing the — you know, it’s not taking the responsibility that’s really theirs. This is very important, both for BP’s future, and the Justice Department investigation, and in lawsuits that might try to get BP to pay for some of the damages.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And are Transocean and Halliburton, are they presenting evidence to refute or to counter what BP is saying?

STEVEN MUFSON: Not today. Today, most of the evidence is coming from BP. It’s finding fault with the mixture that Halliburton used in its cement job. And it’s also found fault with a piece of equipment that was made by a company called Weatherford International that was supposed to block some of the gas and oil from flowing up the well in the event of a cement failure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you sum up how much credibility, Steven, this report is being given?

STEVEN MUFSON: Well, I think it’s mixed, because, on the one hand, it is a serious effort. They marshaled about 50 people inside of BP. Supposedly, these people were sort of set apart. They came from parts of the company that were not involved in the Gulf. And they have employed experts from outside the company as well.

On the other hand, you know, they’re still BP employees. And a lot of people are skeptical that they could really take the kind of tough look at BP that some of these other independent investigations that are still going on might — might do later on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and is it possible to know how much this investigation is going to contribute to other official investigations into — into what happened?

STEVEN MUFSON: I think the significance of this — this is drawing in part on some of those investigations. I think the real significance here is twofold. One, it gives us a more detailed look at some issues that — perhaps legitimate issues involving some of the BP’s contractors. But I think it also gives us a little glimpse into the defense that BP might deploy if it faces criminal charges from the Justice Department or that it might deploy in some of the private lawsuits against it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In other words, with any potential criminal case or legal case, I should say, in — against them in mind.

STEVEN MUFSON: Right. I mean, they have taken a lot of responsibility by promising to pay $20 billion or $30 billion, whatever it takes to clean up and meet a lot of damages that are done to the economy of the Gulf Coast. But I think this is a sign that there is a limit out there and that they are prepared to make a vigorous argument that other people were also at fault.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we will leave it there. Steven Mufson, The Washington Post, thanks so much.

STEVEN MUFSON: Thanks, Judy.