Ecowatch.org just released newly uncovered evidence of a Deepwater Horizon-type blowout of a BP rig in the Caspian Sea, in September 2008, two years before the Deepwater Horizon blew out.
The evidence consists of an eyewitness account that they claim has been backed up by several rig workers as well as incriminating documents.
Had the event not been concealed, an investigation would have occurred which may have led to safety improvements that could have prevented the disaster in the Gulf. Or for that matter, it may have resulted in Congress refusing to open the Gulf for drilling.
The witness, whose name has been withheld for his own protection, is supposedly an industry insider who claims that there were striking similarities between the two events. Most notably, both rigs used quick dry cement to plug the wells, faulty blowout preventers, inadequate evacuation procedures and an overarching atmosphere of intolerance for the expression of concerns about safety, all of which were contributors to both events.
It is clear is that in the absence of public or regulatory attention, the company was able to continue to use the same shoddy, cost-saving practices that ultimately led to the biggest oil spill in US history, in which 11 rig workers were killed.
Why are we just hearing about this now?
According to Greg Palast, the reporter who broke the story, his investigation began just days after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when he received a message from a would-be whistleblower in the Caspian Sea. The witness was afraid to come forward for fear of being discovered. When he was contacted on a secure line, the man said he had witnessed the blowout of the giant ACG oil platform, off the cost of Azerbaijan, complete with the emergency evacuation of 211 rig workers. According to BP, the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli platform was first commissioned in 1997.
Palast then went with a crew from the British TV news program Dispatches to investigate the incident and confirm the witness’ story. However, as the crew approached the platform, they were arrested by Azerbaijani security police who told them that, “BP drives this country.” They were quickly released to avoid a diplomatic kerfuffle, but two new witnesses who had emerged mysteriously disappeared after telling Palast that they had been evacuated from the rig after it began filling with explosive methane gas. They had described the sea as “bubbling all around,” with methane.
Fortunately, unlike the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the gas did not ignite, so there was no explosion and the rig still stands.
Video reposted with permission from EcoWatch.org.
But the fact that the cement, which was supplied by Halliburton, using the same nitrogen-filled quick-dry formulation that was used in the Deepwater Horizon, failed, should have been reported to the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) which was not done.
The witnesses stated that, “there was mud (drill-pipe cement) blown out all over the platform.” It appears the cement cap failed to hold back high-pressure gases which, “engulfed the entire platform in methane gas.”
According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance and senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council, “We have laws that make it illegal to hide this kind of information. At the very least, these are lies by omission. When you juxtapose their knowledge of this incident upon the oil companies’ constant and persistent assurances of safety to regulators, investigators and shareholders, you have all the elements to prove that their concealment of the information was criminal.”
It appears that BP has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal this story. They based much of their defense of negligence charges in the Gulf of Mexico incident on the premise that this had never happened before.
RFK Jr: called this “a critical piece of evidence.” Evidence that BP executives failed to mention when lobbying before Congress to reopen the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling, just six months before the Deepwater Horizon blew out, stating that the practices they used were safe and environmentally sound.
BP refused to be interviewed for this story, though they did provide a written statement last March in which they acknowledged that there had been “a gas release” at the ACG platform in which a fire had been avoided and workers evacuated. They claim that it had been reported on the newswires. However, nowhere did they mention that the release had, in fact, been a blowout.
However, as shown in Palast’s video, in a series of communications released by Wikileaks, between the President of BP Azerbaijan and the US embassy, the oilman admits that there was a blowout.
This news comes on the heels of a recent disclosure of grotesque deformities in Gulf of Mexico fish, shrimp and other sea creatures in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
This is more than a little ironic considering I just reviewed BP’s 2011 Sustainability Review earlier this week. They seem intent on trying to escape the past. But instead of receding into the background, it just seems to keep on coming back to haunt them.
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.