Total, Chevron Question Safety of BP Macondo Well Design

LONDON (Dow Jones Newswires), Oct. 26, 2010

Senior executives at major oil companies Total and Chevron Tuesday criticized the safety of the design BP used on its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, which spilled millions of barrels of oil earlier this year following a blowout.

Their comments come the day after BP's new chief executive Bob Dudley defended his company's actions in the Gulf of Mexico and accused the media and some people in the oil industry of fear-mongering and a "rush to judgment" that exacerbated the crisis.

Roland Festor, managing director of Total's Exploration and Production unit in the U.K. and Richard Cohagan, managing director of Chevron U.K., told a parliamentary committee Tuesday they would have used different designs for Macondo because some of the techniques employed by BP weren't suitable for that type of reservoir.

They were echoing concerns raised at a Congressional hearing this summer by other major oil companies, such as Shell and ExxonMobil, about the safety of BP's deep water oil drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Most oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico have sought to distance themselves from BP and its practices.

The Total and Chevron executives didn't go as far as to say the well design caused the blowout that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 men and triggering an oil spill of almost five million barrels. It is impossible to say why the disaster happened when most investigations have yet to reach a conclusion, they said.

BP's internal investigation concluded that well design played no part in the accident.

Cohagan said BP designed the Macondo exploration well so that it could also be used to produce oil later, thus saving the cost of drilling another well on the same field--something Chevron doesn't do.

Because it doesn't use exploration wells for production later on, Chevron can use more steel liners and a greater number of larger physical barriers that improve the safety of the well, Cohagan said.

"We would not have used the type of cement BP used," said Festor. "It is quite surprising for us that it used this type of nitrogen foam cement on top of a high pressure reservoir," like Macondo, he said.

BP's internal investigation determined that failure of cement at the bottom of the well was one of the biggest factors in the blowout.

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