Tuesday, July 26, 2005

(Updated and bumped) Thunderhorse stable and level, let the scapegoating begin!

Well, SMIT needs to be given a big pat on the back. They did a bang-up job getting this thing leveled out and storm ready. I still do not have confirmed data, but the totally unconfirmed rumblings I'm hearing from multiple directions (reverberations?) indicate that isolation valves which would have normally been open during operation but closed when being readied for storms, were leaky. These leaks caused water to seep through the now idled pumps into the ballast tank causing the platform to take on water. SMIT has placed flange covers over the inlets as a stop-gap to allow their bailing pumps to keep up with the flooding. Now the question becomes, "How do we fix this?". The short answer is "I don't know", there are a couple ways to skin this cat, and without more information I cannot hazard guess which path BP will choose. Ideally, they will want to do this without dry-docking if at all possible. This is likely to be possible, but the exact method will be driven by the design of the hardware and how safe BP wants to be during the repair. The valves may be replaceable with the inlet flange covers still in place, if so, this will likely be one of their options. However, during the repair, only the blind flange cover is preventing flooding. Whether BP is happy with this level of safety is hard to say, they tend to be vary anal about safety, at least their offshore group is (can't speak to the refinery group). A variation on this option is to replace the one isolation valve with two or more to add redundancy to the system. Whether this option is chosen will depend on space limitations in the system design. I personally would highly recommend that at least one additional valve be added to the system if at all possible.

Now the other question on the minds of the lord high muckety-mucks over at BP and Exxon-Mobil is bound to be, "Who can we sue to recover some of these costs?" the list will probably include the platform designers, and maybe going all the way down to the company that built the valves. At this level of abstraction, actual liability is moot, it you have money and could even remotely be tied back to this, you can bet you'll be hearing from BP's legal department.

I'm going to join Roaring Tiger in cranking back on the blogging on this, there is no more news to report at this point, only speculation. If I hear anything more, I'll blog about it, otherwise, all I can do is wait and see what develops.

UPDATE:
The rumors I'm hearing (And I must stress that this is unverified rumor!) is that the shipyard in Korea screwed up and installed two check valves in the ballast control system backwards. BP in their inspection did not catch that the valves were backwards. Additionally, the system was not designed with manual backup isolation valves, they were relying completely on the check valves. Therefore when the valves opened when they should have closed, there was no backup system to ensure that there was no flooding. I am hearing that this is currently being rectified with manual isolation valves as well as flipping the check valves around in the correct orientation.

As an aside, I'm hearing that BP is discovering more and more things like this that were clearly thrown together at the last minute in an effort to meet deadlines. If it were me, (and thankfully, it is not) I believe a top to bottom inspection is in order and some thorough testing to make sure that there aren't other critical systems that have been compromised by this shoddy work.

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