Oil Spill Could Have Been Prevented?

They say if an acoustic switch had been available as a third backup, the oil well could have been shut down. Here’s what a commenter, named Kaisersoze, said:

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig lacked a device called an acoustic switch that could have shut off the flow of oil. The remote controlled device sends acoustic impulses through the water that can trigger an underwater valve to shut down the well. All offshore rigs have one main switch to shut off the flow of oil by closing a valve located on the ocean floor. There is also supposed to be a backup, a so-called “dead man,” that will shut down the well in the event of a catastrophe on the rig. Apparently neither of these devices worked on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The crewmembers who would have been closest to the shutoff switch are among those missing and presumed dead. With an acoustic trigger a crew can shut down a well even if the rig is damaged or evacuated. However, BP, which reported profits of $5.598 billion for the first quarter of 2010, vigorously resisted changes to US regulations that would have required acoustic triggers on deep sea rigs, citing effectiveness and costs, about $500,000 per unit. Compliant US regulators agreed, saying other backup plans were sufficient. They called the acoustic triggers unreliable and prone to causing unnecessary shutdowns. However, according to a spokesman for Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority quoted by the Journal, acoustic triggers are “the most successful and effective option.” Norway has used acoustic triggers on almost all its oil rigs since 1993.

Kaisersoze is commenting on the Reuters article, U.S. fights to protect shore from massive oil spill.

But guess who was involved in canceling the acoustic trigger backup? Why none other than our old friend — friend, did I say? — Dick Cheney. See Acoustic trigger costing $500,000 may have prevented oil spill. Here’s the relevant portion from this article: “By 2003, the plan [acoustic trigger backup system] was scrapped after a closed-door meeting with energy company executives conducted by then-Vice President Dick Cheney.”

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  1. Kate’s avatar

    Eesh. What a nightmare.

  2. geologyjoe’s avatar

    I think there is some question if an acoustic shut off would have worked due to the type of well head failure. It seems that the well seal around the pipe may have been bad.
    Also it’s not that the ‘deadmen’ shut off didn’t work but may not have been activated. This indicates that, well, shit went bad really fast.

    11 men are dead and that part of the story is glazed over in every article.

  3. Mardé’s avatar

    Thanks, Joe. Perhaps the whole thing was a non-preventable accident that nobody could have predicted would happen. And you’re right, there’s little attention paid to the fact that 11 men are dead as a result of this calamity.

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