Halliburton implicated in BP’s Deepwater oil spill
Texas oil giant famous for its links with Dick Cheney was hired to plug oil well before explosion
Halliburton, the Texan oilfield services giant, has emerged as a key player in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. The controversial firm, once run by former vice president and Iraq war architect Dick Cheney, had been hired by BP to handle the cementing process on the doomed rig.
According to Transocean, the operator of the drilling platform, Halliburton workers had just finished pumping cement to fill the space between the pipe and the sides of the hole and had begun temporarily plugging the 18,000 ft well with cement shortly before the explosion that caused the rig to catch fire and ultimately to sink.
Latest reports suggest oil is blasting from three seperate holes in the bedrock beneath the gulf of Mexico at a rate of 200,000 gallons a day - a rate that has caused the slick to spread far more rapidly and widely than previous estimates forecast.
According to oil experts, the timing of the initial blast points to problems with cementing, typically one of the most troublesome parts of the drilling process.
Faults in the process have caused explosions in the past; over the past 14 years, 18 of 30 blowouts have been linked to cementing. Typically, a faulty cement plug at the bottom of the well or cement between the pipe and well walls that did not harden is to blame.
Last August, Halliburton was the cementer on a well in the Timor Sea that blew out and caused tens of thousands of barrels of oil to leak. "The initial likely cause of gas coming to the surface had something to do with the cement," Robert MacKenzie, managing director of energy and natural resources at FBR Capital Markets, told the Wall Street Journal.
Halliburton declined to comment on the report while its stock fell five per cent in trading.
Meanwhile, efforts to cap the well or contain the spill are progressing - but slowly. BP says it plans to begin drilling a second well through 13,000 feet of rock a mile under the ocean's floor to intercept the damaged well in two weeks. If it succeeds, the company would pump in cement to try to plug the leak. In all, the process could take several months.
In the meantime, the firm plans to step up use of chemical dispersants and protective booms, as well as placing a 74-ton, concrete-and-metal 'box' over the leaking well-head. But this and clean-up efforts already underway could be hampered by what meterologists predict will be an abnormally active hurricane season.
Forecasters say meterological conditions will rival or exceed 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. They say El Nino in the Pacific is weakening and rain is keeping dust down in Africa - both factors that could accelerate the strength and frequency of hurricanes this summer. Already, sea temperatures from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean, where storms develop, are above normal or at record levels.
"I am definitely thinking that this is going to be a severe hurricane season," Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, told Bloomberg.
For the beleaguered British firm, this news could hardly be worse. Already familiar with vilification after the 2005 Texas City oil refinery blast that killed 15 men, the firm must now explain why the Deepwater Horizon well did not have emergency shutdown valves (ESVs) installed or a so-called "acoustical switch" on the blow-out preventer that could be activated remotely.
A spokesman for BP has denied that either are appropriate in a discovery well. ·
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