The fact that more than 100 people escaped the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion alive is a sign the evacuation effort went fairly well, a US Coast Guard official said yesterday.
Captain James Hanzalik, chief of incident response for the US Coast Guard’s 8th District, told the joint US Coast Guard-Bureau of Energy Management’s Regulation and Enforcement investigative panel there was nothing more his agency could have done to prevent the Deepwater Horizon from sinking.
Captain Hanzalik also said the coast guard currently relies on oil industry partners for help in rescuing so many people from a deepwater rig.
“Typically we don’t have the assets to do that,” Captain Hanzalik said.
He added he would expect owners and operators of vessels at sea to have their own evacuation plans.
Fighting the fire on the rig is largely the responsibility of the industry because coast guards are not experts in that area, Captain Hanzalik said.
“We never exercised our control over the firefighting efforts,” he said. “We’re not trained firefighters.”
The rig ultimately sank, and some 206million gallons of oil spewed from BP’s undersea well following the April 20 rig explosion.
The panel, meeting near New Orleans, is trying to determine the cause of the blast and spill that followed. Of the 126 people on board the rig, 11 were killed. Besides figuring out a cause, the panel, which is holding its fifth series of hearings, is examining how to improve safety and oversight.
At least one more series of hearings is expected before panel members begin collaborating on their report.
Also testifying yesterday was the president of Smit Salvage Americas, which helped respond to the Deepwater Horizon incident. Smit is part of Donjon-Smit LLC of Alexandria, Virginia.
The company, which has expertise in marine firefighting and salvage, was hired to try to help save the rig after the explosion. The Smit official said he didn’t arrive at a Transocean command centre until seven hours after the explosion.
Among the witnesses scheduled to testify later this week are key workers for BP and Transocean, an expert on mobile offshore drilling units, an expert on maritime alarm systems and a deepwater well equipment expert.
Perhaps the most critical testimony is expected to come from two BP officials who were familiar with the company’s decision to use only six centralisers during the cementing of the well that blew out.
Halliburton had recommended the use of 21 centralisers, which are devices that make sure the casing is running down the centre of the well bore. If the casing is cemented off-centre, there is a risk of an imperfect seal that could allow oil and gas to escape.
BP said in its internal report that its centraliser decision probably did not contribute to the cement’s failure.
BP’s well gushed for three months before being capped in July and then permanently sealed in September. The oil giant owned the well but was leasing the rig from owner Transocean.