Even before Thursday’s findings by the presidential Oil Spill Commission became public, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ordered Halliburton to turn over to federal investigators samples of the cement the company used to try to seal the Macondo oil well in April before it exploded.
Barbier, who is handling the consolidated civil litigation regarding the massive BP oil spill, originally ordered remaining samples of the exact cement slurry used in the well to be held under seal. But on Wednesday, he signed an order directing Halliburton to release to Marine Board investigators more than 2 gallons of the mixture that wasn’t poured into BP’s well.
The action is timely, given that President Barack Obama’s Oil Spill Commission released a report Thursday that said independent tests of Halliburton’s foam cement recipe showed it to be unstable.
Halliburton responded late Thursday night by claiming the mixture the commission used to test the cement may have used different additives. The Oil Spill Commission contended that it received the exact ingredients for the mixture from Halliburton, but the company claimed it had actually used a “unique blend of cement and additives” while the commission used “off-the-shelf” ingredients.
Cement is used to help metal tubes lining the well to adhere to the well’s earthen walls. Cement is poured into the well as a liquid and hardens into place. Halliburton’s foam cement is filled with little nitrogen bubbles, allowing it to flex with the expansion and contraction of the drilled-out hole as it is subjected to extreme heat and pressure, miles under the sea floor.
But if the foam isn’t stable, nitrogen can break out and the bubbles can get too large, increasing the possibility that the cement barrier could collapse.
The commission acknowledged that the only way to test the stability of the foam cement precisely would be to use the exact mixture left over from the BP project. That’s what Barbier has ordered released to Marine Board investigators from the Coast Guard and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
However, Barbier’s order notes that the cement samples are degrading over time and warns that “no destructive testing on the cementing components will be conducted without further order from the court.”
Although Halliburton took issue with some of the Oil Spill Commission’s findings, the company acknowledged that it used a specific cement mixture under orders from BP, but never tested its stability before pouring it into the well.
Many people believe that cement failure was among the key causes of the blowout, although it remains unclear if the apparent foam stability problems were at fault. The Oil Spill Commission acknowledged that a cement failure alone does not cause a blowout and it’s generally believed that several shortcomings contributed to the accident.
Thanks to our friends at The Times-Picayune