Oil Rig Alarm System Was Disabled Before Explosion, Technician Says

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The chief electrician aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig testified Friday that a fire and natural gas alarm system had been disabled for a year before the rig exploded and sank three months ago, setting off the largest oil leak in U.S. history.

The faulty alarm system had been set to “inhibited” so that false alarms wouldn’t awaken workers aboard the rig, Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams told a federal investigative panel in Kenner, La.

The panel is investigating what caused the explosion on the rig, which killed 11 workers. Williams was on the rig at the time, and survived by jumping from the burning structure, the Washington Post reported.

Williams has filed a lawsuit against Transocean, the owner of the rig and his former employer. He told the panel Friday that the alarm system was a “wreck” when he took over his job in 2009, and that he encountered constant problems as he tried to fix it. He also said that he complained repeatedly to Transocean officials about the decision to put the alarm system in “inhibited” mode during the six months leading up to the explosion.

Williams also described other problems on the rig, including the fact that the drilling control computers would often freeze up, a condition rig workers called the “blue screen of death.”

Others witnesses have also told the panel this week about problems on the rig. On Thursday, Natalie Roshto, the widow of rig worker Shane Rosto, who died in the explosion, said that her husband complained from the first day of work on the rig about equipment malfunctions and other problems with the well.

“From Day 1, he deemed this the well from hell,” Roshto said, according to the New York Times. “He said Mother Nature just didn’t want to be drilled here.”

Transocean — the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that BP was leasing — has avoided much of the public anger focused on the larger company BP. But Williams’ and others testimony could be a problem for Transocean as it also faces lawsuits, Vanderbilt University Law Professor Richard Nagareda told the Wall street Journal.

“Anytime the plaintiff can pinpoint something that could have been done, they can tap into this idea that if something bad had happened, it must have been preventable.”

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