Washington, D.C.— Following revelations that the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found major flaws in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation Enforcement’s investigation into the BP Atlantis oil and gas facility, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch today renewed its demand that the platform be shuttered until it can be proven safe to operate. This appeal was spurred by a letter sent yesterday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) condemning the agency for misleading the public about the platform’s safety.
“The OIG report seriously undermines the credibility of the government’s original assessment of the Atlantis facility,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These recent developments only serve to underscore the fact that this facility is unsafe to operate and needs to be shuttered immediately. Atlantis poses an enormous safety risk and could devastate the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding communities.”
“Congress has a Constitutional duty to conduct oversight over the executive branch, and reports of a federal agency intentionally misleading lawmakers as they fulfill that duty are deeply troubling,” added Rep. Grijalva. “The American people are already suffering enough from BP’s willingness to cut corners on the Deepwater Horizon rig – the last thing we need is the federal government serving as accomplice while BP tries to maximize profits at the expense of the public’s safety and wellbeing.”
In a December 2013 report, only made public recently due to a recent Freedom of Information Act request, the OIG questioned the BOEMRE’s 2010-11 investigation into allegations that the BP Atlantis facility lacks proper documentation and therefore poses a major safety threat to the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast Communities. While BOEMRE claimed there was no apparent threat,the OIG report reveals that a team of structural engineers at the agency did, in fact, find gas leaks, mysterious burn marks and hydrates on wellheads, all of which are symptoms of more serious well integrity problems. Yet, none of these details were included in BOEMRE’s report.
Located off the coast of Louisiana in “Hurricane Alley” the BP Atlantis is one of the world’s deepest oil and gas platforms. In 2009, BP contractor-turned whistle blower Ken Abbott notified the Minerals Management Service (MMS) that he believed the BP Atlantis was operating without a large percentage of the engineer-approved, up-to-date drawings for the facility’s subsea components. Further review of a BP database showed that close to 90 percent of the facility’s 7,176 documents lacked the necessary approval of a certified engineer, as required by industry minimum standards and MMS regulations. A 2008 email from BP’s own management indicated an awareness of incomplete or inaccurate information, with BP’s staff warning that this behavior “could lead to catastrophic Operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct.”
Together with Food & Water Watch, Abbott urged BOEMRE to shutter the platform until it could be proven safe to operate, a request that the agency has so far ignored. In February, 2010, Rep. Grijalva asked Minerals Management Services to fully investigate whether BP had a complete and accurate set of required engineering drawings for the BP Atlantis and its associated subsea components prior to the start of production from the platform.
The recently made public OIG report indicates that a team of dissenting engineers involved in the investigation into Atlantis found among other things, that “BP did not have a complete set of ‘approved for construction’ engineering documents for all subsea components of the Atlantis platform and related facilities when it began production in October 2007.” Nor did BP “have a complete set of “as built” engineering documents for the Atlantis facilities that are currently in operation. In fact, at least one structural engineer indicated that the agency’s interpretation of its regulations to allow this was “unacceptable” and “demonstrated malpractice.”
The letter from Rep. Grijalva highlights these findings and states that he believes that BOEMRE’s investigation was severely flawed. He charges that the OIG report demonstrates that “individuals went to extreme lengths to protect BP from negative repercussions of the agency’s investigation, while ignoring the real safety threats posed by the facility and overlooking allegations of insider conflicts of interest.” The letter says: “it is clear that the initial BOEMRE investigation was inconclusive, misleading and clearly disrupted by potential conflicts of interest. The American people deserve to know when a federal agency conducts an investigation that it is done with the utmost integrity.”
“Why does the BOEMRE continue to ignore the warnings of public interest groups and engineers?” implored Hauter. “The BP Horizon disaster was no freak occurrence, and it should have served as a warning that a similar fate could befall the Atlantis platform. How many otherwise avoidable man-made disasters will we have to endure before the government takes action to protect the public against this disaster waiting to happen?”
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.