Oil rig workers allegedly told to work faster

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 17, 2010 10:11 EDT
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(AFP) – The massive explosions ahead of the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig — leading to a huge oil slick threatening the Gulf — came after BP ordered a faster pace of drilling, a rig worker told CBS’ “60 Minutes” program Sunday.

With its complex drilling operations costing the resources giant around $US1 million a day and the extracting of oil behind schedule, Mike Williams, the rig’s chief electronics technician, said a BP manager pressured workers to step up their pace.

”’Hey, let’s bump it up. Let’s bump it up’,” Williams recalled of the BP manager’s request. “And what he was talking about there is he’s bumping up the rate of penetration. How fast the drill bit is going down.”

On the night of April 20, two days before the rig sank, a geyser of mud and water shot into the air above the rig and natural gas from below the sea found a spark to set the structure ablaze.

Workers were then shaken by huge explosions, diving into lifeboats or leaping into the murky Gulf waters below to escape the inferno, while 11 workers remained missing and presumed dead following the disaster.

“There’s always pressure, but yes, the pressure was increased,” Williams said of BP’s push to step up the pace.

In his view, Williams said that “communication seemed to break down as to who was ultimately in charge,” with various managers from BP, who leased the rig, and from Transocean, who owned the rig, appearing to give conflicting orders on how to close the well.

The technician also said that a crew member had accidentally damaged the all-important blowout preventer before the explosion and subsequent failure to seal off the oil well.

A crewman on deck accidentally nudged a joystick, applying hundreds of thousands of pounds of force, and moving 15 feet (4.57 meters) of drill pipe through the closed blowout preventer, according to the show, with Williams adding that later “chunks” of the equipment’s rubber shield were found to be missing.

In the chaotic moments before the explosions, Williams recalled how he knew something terrible was about to happen.

“I’m hearing hissing. Engines are over-revving. And then all of a sudden, all the lights in my shop just started getting brighter and brighter…” he said.

“My lights get so incredibly bright that they physically explode. I’m pushing my way back from the desk when my computer monitor exploded.”

Injured, Williams managed to make it out of his work shop and grappled with the terrifying prospect of leaping into the choppy black ocean below.

”’We’re going to burn up. Or we’re going to jump’,” Williams recalled telling a colleague.

“Maybe 90 feet (27.43 meters), 100 feet (30 meters). It’s a long ways,” he said of the distance from rig to water, saying he only remembers closing his eyes and saying a prayer.

“I made those three steps, and I pushed off the end of the rig. And I fell for what seemed like forever.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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