Monday: Safety Lapses Found on Oil Rig; Israel Approves New Gaza Policy

BY Tom LeGro  June 21, 2010 at 9:05 AM EDT

oil burns

Smoke rises from controlled oil burns on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Two reports out Monday show critical safety lapses on the Deepwater Horizon before it exploded on April 20.

The federal agency charged with regulating offshore drilling repeatedly declined to act on advice on how it could minimize the risk of failure of a crucial device, the New York Times reports.

From documents and interviews, the Times reports on the blind shear ram, a supposedly failsafe device:

“[I]f the crew of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig lost control of a well, if a dreaded blowout came, the blind shear ram’s two tough blades were poised to slice through the drill pipe, seal the well and save the day….Engineers contended with hydraulic fluid leaks that may have deprived the ram of crucial cutting force. They struggled to comprehend what was going on in the steel sarcophagus that encased the shear ram, as if trying to perform surgery blindfolded.”

In another report, a Deepwater Horizon rig worker told the BBC that he identified a leak in the oil rig’s safety equipment weeks before the explosion. The leak was not fixed, and the faulty device was shut down and a second one relied on.

Tyrone Benton found a problem in the control pods of the blowout preventer, which is designed to cut and seal off the well’s main pipe. The control pods are “the brains of the blowout preventer” and contain both electronics and hydraulics.

BP responded to Benton’s account by saying Transocean was responsible for both the maintenance and operation of the blowout preventer. Transocean said it tested the device successfully before the accident.

On Capitol Hill, the Washington Post reports, “Companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are hiring a bevy of high-priced Washington lobbyists and consultants to help them weather the crisis, as investigations heat up and calls for policy changes intensify.”

In New Orleans, a judge will hear arguments in federal court on the efforts to block the Interior Department from enforcing a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Also Monday, BP said it has spent $2 billion in two months on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster and in compensation to victims. The amount included $105 million paid out so far to 32,000 claimants, but not any of the $20 billion fund that BP agreed to set up to continue compensating Gulf residents and businesses.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that “behind the scenes, according to people on both sides of the negotiations, the company achieved victories that appear to have softened the blow.”

“BP successfully argued it shouldn’t be liable for most of the broader economic distress caused by the president’s six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. And it fended off demands to pay for restoration of the Gulf coast beyond its prespill conditions,” the Journal reports.

Israel Approves New Policy on Goods to Gaza

Israel announced new steps to ease land access to the Gaza Strip, after weeks of international pressure over an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.

But both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas dismissed the Israeli announcement as insufficient.

According to the new policy, Israel will now publish a list of items that are banned from entering Gaza, instead of a much smaller list of only those items that are allowed in, as the old policy required.

Meantime, Lebanon has allowed a Gaza-bound ship carrying aid to sail to Cyprus. The shot cannot go directly to Gaza because Lebanese officials say Lebanon and Israel are still technically in a state of war. It is set to sail in the next few days, but an exact date was not given because of security concerns.