Deepwater Hearings – How much does the left hand know about the right hand?

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May 27, 2010

At the conclusion of the first day of the Kenner hearings to include testimony from both BP and Transocean personnel, it’s clear one question needs to be asked… Does one hand know what the other is doing?

In the opinion of gCaptain four organizations share primary blame for the events of April 20th; Halliburton, Transocean, BP and the US Government. (Halliburton has not testified yet so we will concentrate this article on the other three) And each is larger than the next which makes it easy to understand the complexity of the problem but difficult to understand who exactly is responsible for each failure.

The complexity starts on the vessel where the division of responsibilities between the Captain, with extensive marine knowledge, and OIM, with extensive drilling knowledge, are described in the organizational chart as:

Underway Mode: Master Is In Charge OIM.

Drilling Mode: OIM Is In Charge

But is it not the fact that a Dynamically Positioned MODU is always underway? Some would argue that it’s even making way through the water considering the thrusters are pushing the vessel through the current.

In yesterday’s testimony Transocean VP of Health Safety and the Environment, Captain Adrian Rose, was asked specific questions about the blowout procedures aboard the Horizon to which he responded; “Transocean owns 134 vessels, I can’t possibly have detailed information on each of them.” When asked specifically “Who is ultimately responsible for safety management?”, Rose answered that the CEO is ultimately responsible but TOI follows a process of line management.

The International Safety Management Code states:

To ensure the safe operation of each ship and to provide a link between the Company and those on board, every Company, as appropriate, should designate a person or persons ashore having direct access to the highest level of management. The responsibility and authority of the designated person or persons should include monitoring the safety and pollution-prevention aspects of the operation of *each ship* and ensuring that adequate resources and shore-based support are applied, as required.

Captain Rose stated that Transocean has designated persons in each of it’s nine districts and that contact information for this individual is posted aboard every ship… but he continued to say that safety concerns are a matter for line management and that safety concerns should be brought to an individual’s supervisor.

The line management system works but only if one’s supervisor has a thorough knowledge of the operations he overseas but it’s clear that Transocean’s line management, while having expertise in drilling operations, do not have a solid knowledge of the marine emergency, marine engineering or marine operations in general. Transocean does have a Marine Superintendent but with these expertise (it remains unclear whether they have a Port Engineer) but for marine crew to contact these people the direct line of management is sidestepped… exactly the thing Mr. Rose says Transocean policy was designed to avoid.

But a direct line of management, regardless of competency of bosses in marine operations, is better than BP’s structure of responsibility and authority in which Mr. Tink, HS&E leader for BP operations in the Gulf, was unable to clearly define during his testimony. In answering questions it was clear Mr. Tink had no knowledge of marine or general emergency management but rather was an expert in “Occupational Health”. Mr. Tink mentioned OSHA regulations, which don’t apply offshore, but did not display knowledge of ISM, ISPS or the myriad of other codes that do apply to vessels.

gCaptain is confident of BP’s in-house experience as an owner and operator of tankers and other marine vessels but these people did not testify and it is unclear who is responsible AND COMPETENT in planning and monitoring marine emergencies. Mr. Tink described spreadsheets, diagrams and advance computers that crunch injury data but made no mention of a program that records ABS deficiencies, USCG comments, BP Marine Audit reports, Marine incidents and other clues to problems in these areas.

So “Who is responsibility (and competent!?) for Safety (including marine safety) with BP”? Tink’s answer included steering committees, process vs people and layers of management but no single name emerged.

But Mr. Tink’s testimony was encouraging in the fact that he gave gCaptain confidence that BP did in fact have experts, including marine, that every Sr. member of BP access to provide expert advise as needed. Further that the steering committees, process vs people and layers, while not serving to make responsibilities clear, did serve to create an atmosphere of teamwork between departments which, as gCaptain recently wrote, is critical to safe operations.

The organization that has topic experts in every facet of knowledge is the US Government which, in regulating offshore operations, shares responsibility for the incident. gCaptain interviewed a number of MODU captains and OIM’s all of which had zero knowledge of ever witnessing a joint inspection with both MMS and USCG inspectors. Further they very few instances could be fond where these two government entities worked together closely to solve or regulate a problem. Our interviews also reveled that MMS inspectors generally have little knowledge of marine operations and USCG inspectors don’t have granular knowledge of drilling ops. The problem; things fall in the crack that exists between these two organizations.

gCaptain would like to report that the problem has been identified and rectified in the organizational structure, the structure of expert knowledge, and the structure of responsibility. But it hasn’t. While the term “Joint Investigation” is heartening and we certainly like the image of USCG and MMS logos in unison on the investigation website, there remains to be any evidence that no marine & drilling experts in Transocean, BP and USG have spent the time to sit down and learn from each other.

It has been suggested that smaller companies are more effective in preventing incidents due to the familiarity of management with daily operations but breaking down each company does not seem like the most likely solution. But one thing can be changed in the near future it’s that the drilling and marine experts in each organization stop depending on each other’s expertise and start the long difficult job of gaining real knowledge in each other’s jobs.

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